COMMENTARY : He’s the Only Spark Left in Angels’ Battery


Now that the Angels have rediscovered what it takes to win a baseball game--scoring first is always a plus; shutting out the other guy isn’t a bad idea, either--Marcel Lachemann has some tough decisions to make.

For instance, he must resist temptation, remember Gene Mauch and do his damnedest not to set up his starting rotation this way for the last week of the season:

Jim Abbott on Tuesday.

Jim Abbott on Wednesday.

Jim Abbott on Thursday.

Jim Abbott all the way through next Sunday.

It might be the only way the Angels can make the playoffs now, but four out of five team doctors would probably recommend against it.


Baseball people have been saying it for years: There’s only one Jim Abbott.

Doesn’t Lachemann know it, and doesn’t he wish the Angels had a genetic engineer in the system to do something about it.

Nine games after the Angels’ most recent victory, Abbott started against the Texas Rangers on Sunday and closed them down, yielding three singles and weathering all nine innings for the rare Angel complete game and the rarer Angel 5-0 triumph.

This came 20 days after Abbott stopped the Angels’ previous nine-game losing streak.

And two days after Mark Langston blanched at the sight of Benji Gil digging in during the bottom of the seventh, turning a 3-3 tie into an 8-3 Ranger blowout.

And one day after Chuck Finley failed to retire a single Texas batter until two of them had homered and five of them had scored.

This is why the Angels made the trade with the White Sox, in case anyone still had questions.

Where would the Angels be today without Abbott? Eliminated, probably. Closing in on an 11th consecutive defeat, very likely. The longest losing streak in franchise history is 13 games. With Shawn Boskie starting Tuesday in Seattle, Langston on Wednesday and Finley on Thursday, a momentous occasion might well have been at hand.


Instead, the Angels trail Seattle by two games with their next two games in Seattle. It’s not the scenario they envisioned three weeks ago, or one week ago, but it is a fighting chance, which, considering how the Angels have played for the last month, is more than they deserve.

“That was a big, big game,” said Lachemann, who has just about run dry of motivational machinations. Finally, the book on his desktop, “Game Time: Motivational Messages For Teams And Life!” could stay closed. At last, he had found a better way than to photocopy life philosophy by Vince Lombardi (Sample verse: “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”) and place the text in the locker stall of every Angel player before Sunday’s game.

“Jimmy has put together two outstanding outings on this trip,” Lachemann said, alluding to Abbott’s Tuesday night start in Oakland, in which he struck out 10, allowed one run and received no decision. “He really has. He’s done it right at crunch time.”

On this team, during this September, Abbott stands alone on this count. Which, to be frank, doesn’t sit especially well with the pitcher.

“People throw around the word ‘stopper’--’You’re the stopper,’ ” Abbott said with a frown. “No one person is the stopper. That’s what we as a team have to get away from--’I made the pitch, I hit the home run.’ This is not an ‘I’ game, it’s a ‘we’ game.”

Yet, if Abbott had polled the rest of the Angel clubhouse Sunday, he’d have run into some heady opposition on that view.


“Abbott, he’s an ace, man,” third baseman Tony Phillips said. “He’s got us in a good position now--two games back with two games up there [in Seattle]. That’s a big lift.”

Designated hitter Chili Davis: “He just grinds and grinds and grinds out there. That’s what we’ve all got to do from here on out. We’ve got to go out there and perform with that kind of competitive spirit on Tuesday and Wednesday. And Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday after that.”

That, of course, is assuming a lot.

That is assuming the Angels not only catch the Mariners but pass them and flim-flam their way back into the playoffs.

The Angels have a long way to go, but Abbott maintains that the mountain is there for the climbing.

“It’s still in front of us,” he said. “Just steer ahead. . . . The reality is we’re two games back and we now have a chance to go in and play the team that’s ahead of us. We can’t look back at what’s slipped away and we can’t look into the future. Do that and it can become too much to bear.”