Springer Proves That Looks Are Deceiving


If you took five guys off the street, put them in a lineup with Dennis Springer and asked 10 people to pick out the major league pitcher, Springer, the Angel right-hander, would be lucky to get one or two votes.

Who could guess that this 32-year-old with a somewhat unattractive 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame, a buzz cut and as much muscle mass as your average slo-pitch softball player is a professional athlete?

But this unorthodox pitcher comes equipped with an unorthodox pitch, a knuckleball that he used to baffle the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night in a 12-2 victory before 30,209 in Skydome.


“He looks like he ought to be waiting for a bus,” Angel pitcher Chuck Finley said of Springer. “But if he pitches like that, heck, maybe we should all look like that.”

Springer threw a seven-hitter with three strikeouts for his third consecutive victory and his third career complete game, and that steamroller known as the Angel offense pounded out 17 hits, including four by right fielder Tim Salmon, to win for the 10th time in 11 games.

Jim Leyritz had a bases-empty home run in the second inning, Gary DiSarcina hit a three-run homer to key a five-run third, Luis Alicea had a two-run homer in the seventh, and Garret Anderson extended his hitting streak to 17 games, as the Angels pulled to within a game of Texas in the American League West.

The Angels, who also stole three bases, have scored 94 runs in the last 11 games--Toronto, as a comparison, has 160 runs this season--and in their last three games, the Angels have scored 41 runs and have 51 hits, including eight homers.

“When things like this happen it’s a thing of beauty,” Angel designated hitter Tony Phillips said. “You go out there expecting to win instead of trying to win ... there’s a huge difference.”

There’s also a huge difference--about 15 mph to be precise--between the best fastballs of Springer and Blue Jay starter Juan Guzman, but it was the Angel pitcher who went the distance and the Toronto pitcher who was replaced after three innings Friday night.


Springer’s deliveries were dancing so much that catcher Jim Leyritz failed to catch one knuckler that was called a strike.

“That,” Springer said, “was kind of a compliment.”

And with his knuckler clocking at about 62 mph, Springer was able to sneak a few of his so-called fastballs by hitters. “My fastball is like my changeup,” Springer said, “and I had good control of it tonight.”

Springer, who labored in the minor leagues for nine years and didn’t record his first major league victory until 1996, admits he’s a “different” kind of pitcher.

“But I don’t feel because I’m a knuckleballer that I’m any less of a pitcher,” he said. “I’m not going to go out and compete in any triathlons or anything, but I still consider myself a hard worker.”

So does Angel Manager Terry Collins, who knows a thing or two about languishing in the minors--the former infielder played nine professional seasons without reaching the big leagues.

“He worked hard and spent a lot of years developing something that would get him to the big leagues,” Collins said. “It’s a credit to him that he stuck it out and never gave up on himself.”

Toronto Manager Cito Gaston gave up on Guzman after three innings Friday and for good reason. The right-hander, who left his previous start after 12 pitches because of a sore shoulder, was simply awful, giving up eight runs on six hits and coming one base short of a blunder-cycle, his wild throws leading to six unearned Angel runs.

Guzman threw past first on Phillips’ grounder in the first inning, and Phillips eventually scored on Salmon’s two-out single. The pitcher’s wild pickoff throw to first in the second inning allowed Phillips to go to third.

In the third inning, Guzman threw a potential double-play ball past second base and into center field, and a wild pitch that sailed over Leyritz’s head allowed Salmon to score in the inning. It was 8-2 after three innings, but the Angels kept pouring it on.

“Guys are playing with confidence, they’re relaxed,” Collins said. “I’m well aware that it will stop, that there will be trying times ahead, but while it’s going you should have some fun with it.”


Added Punch

The Angel offense has taken off ever since the acquisition of Tony Phillips on Sunday. A look (all numbers are average per game):

Before Phillips

Batting average: .279

Runs: 5

Hits: 9.9

Home runs: 0.8

Walks: 3.3


With Phillips

Batting average: .311

Runs: 10

Hits: 12.8

Home runs: 2.2

Walks: 4.6