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Hill Still Refuses to Yield

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There were several NCAA basketball tournament pools going around the Angel clubhouse in March, and players drew names for a Masters golf tournament pool before Tuesday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

Next thing you know, they’re going to draw dates for a pool on when pitcher Ken Hill gives up his first run of 1998. “It’s going to happen,” Hill said after pitching the Angels to a 6-1 victory over the Red Sox before 19,926 in Edison Field. “Eventually.”

If he keeps pitching like he did Tuesday night, it might be awhile. The right-hander threw eight scoreless innings, giving up five hits, striking out four and walking none, to improve to 2-0.

Hill pitched six scoreless innings to beat the New York Yankees Thursday night, and in his last 66 innings dating back to last August, Hill has given up 10 earned runs for a 1.36 ERA.

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“Mentally, I’m just saying, ‘Here’s my best stuff, you’ve got to beat me,’ ” said Hill, who struggled for most of 1997 before a mechanical adjustment sparked his late-season breakthrough. “Last year, my confidence was down. I thought everything I threw up there would get hit. Now I have the confidence I can get anyone out.”

There was no early indication Hill would be so dominant Tuesday. His first pitch was lined up the middle by Nomar Garciaparra for a single and, after third baseman Dave Hollins started a 5-4-3 double play on John Valentin’s grounder, Hill hit Mo Vaughn on the right knee with a pitch.

But with the Red Sox looking to feast on first-pitch fastballs, Hill began mixing in more offspeed offerings on the first pitch, and that helped induce 12 ground-ball outs. No runner reached third base after the second inning, and Hill retired 18 of 19 batters between the second and eighth innings.

“He threw six to a dozen 94-mph fastballs tonight,” Angel Manager Terry Collins said. “He still reached back in the eighth inning and threw 93-mph fastballs to Garciaparra and Valentin. Those really good pitchers always leave a little bit in reserve.”

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The Angel offense had been running on fumes for four straight games, but Phil Nevin’s bases-empty homer in the second and Darin Erstad’s two-run homer in the fifth off Boston starter Tim Wakefield jump-started the Angels Tuesday night.

This was not an easy task for the Angels, facing flame-throwing Pedro Martinez Monday night and a knuckleball pitcher Tuesday. It was like jumping from the bullet train to the Little Engine That Could.

But Nevin and Erstad both hit knucklers that floated too lazily in the strike zone, Nevin’s blast going an estimated 427 feet to left field and Erstad’s going an estimated 413 feet to right. Erstad’s shot extended his hitting streak to seven games.

The Angels received some disturbing news before the game when they discovered shortstop Gary DiSarcina will be sidelined for several days--and maybe more--because of a deep bone bruise on his left wrist, an injury he suffered when he fell into a photographer’s well in pursuit of a foul popup Monday.

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But Carlos Garcia filled in admirably Tuesday night, making a diving stop of Mike Benjamin’s fifth-inning grounder up the middle and throwing Benjamin out, and doubling down the left-field line before Erstad’s homer in the fifth.

They also received a scare in the fifth when Garciaparra fouled two pitches into the groin of catcher Nevin. Nevin remained on the ground for a minute or two after the second one, got up very slowly, but remained in the game.

“You try to laugh about it, but to be honest, I’ve broken bones and dislocated shoulders, and I’ve never felt anything like that,” said Nevin, a converted third baseman. “It’s part of the job, though. . . . As long as I could squat down, I didn’t want to come out of the game.”

The Angels added three runs in the eighth when Hollins bunted for a single, Tim Salmon singled to right, and Hollins scored on right fielder Midre Cummings’ throwing error.

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