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Angels Keep Heat On

TIMES STAFF WRITER

OK, Chuck Finley’s forkball has been particularly nasty of late and, yeah, Ken Hill is throwing an awful lot of pitches in the outermost reaches of the strike zone. But Jack McDowell?

McDowell became the third Angel pitcher in as many games to look like a Cy Young candidate as the Angels completed a sweep of Boston Wednesday night with a 2-1 victory in front of 24,450 at Edison Field.

“You can’t expect all five guys to go out there and put up eight shutout innings every time out,” Manager Terry Collins said before the game. “There isn’t a team in baseball that has five guys who are going to give up only one run on five consecutive nights, that’s just not going to happen.”

You can bet the Angels will settle for three.

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“Those other two are keeping pressure on the rest of the staff,” McDowell said. “Tonight I was able to hold up my end by making my pitches and getting ahead of the batters.”

Even with McDowell’s mastery--one run, seven hits, six strikeouts in eight innings--the Angels had to sweat out the last pitch, not surprisingly a high Troy Percival fastball that blazed past an overmatched Mike Benjamin.

What had to have come as a surprise to a lot of Angel fans, however, was the little guy walking in from the bullpen to start the ninth inning. But left-hander Mike Holtz was on the mound for a couple of very good reasons: one, Mo Vaughn, who was leading off the ninth, had one hit in seven previous appearances against him; and two, Vaughn was four for five with a home run against Percival.

Vaughn beat the odds, fighting off a Holtz breaking ball and nudging a single to right. That brought on Percival, who picked up his second save of the season by getting pinch hitter Jason Varitek and Scott Hatteberg to ground out and stranding pinch runner Donnie Sadler at third with a fist-pumping strikeout of Benjamin.

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Of course it’s entirely possible the Angel staff’s recent impersonation of the Atlanta Braves could have much to do with the limp Boston lineup.

These days, a handful of Red Sox batters is better than a handful of Advil for an aching earned-run average. Wednesday night’s Boston starters brought a combined .260 batting average into the game, but if you remove Vaughn--or have enough sense to pitch around him--it was a weak .235, almost down to their .231 team average that is second-worst in the American League.

“We’re going to hit, it’s just a matter of time,” Boston Manager Jimy Williams said, “but they made a lot of good pitches during this series.”

McDowell, of course, has already won pitching’s most prestigious honor, but that was five years ago, before elbow surgery and long before he signed an incentive-laden contract with the Angels that will reward him more for stamina than domination.

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“We said it all spring,” Collins said. “If Jack is healthy, we’ve got a pretty good pitcher.”

“I’ll give up my hits,” McDowell keeps saying, and he was as good as his word in his Angel debut, yielding eight hits and five runs in seven innings Friday against Cleveland, when one bad inning was his downfall.

On this balmy evening, however, he did not allow a runner past first base in the first three innings. Then John Valentin lifted a 3-1 pitch just over left-field wall leading off the fourth for his first homer of the season. McDowell was obviously determined not to walk Valentin with Vaughn on deck.

Unfazed, McDowell got the next three hitters--Vaughn, Reggie Jefferson and Hatteberg--on a pop-up and two weak grounders to second.

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Former Angel Jim Leyritz grounded a pinch-hit single into left with one out in the eighth and, after Midre Cummings struck out, Nomar Garciaparra beat out a grounder to short. But McDowell got Valentin to fly to shallow right and left after the one-run-in-eight-innings performance Collins says you just can’t expect.

“He was starting to get a little tired in the seventh and eighth,” catcher Matt Wallbeck said, “but his pitches seemed to get more movement and his location got better.”

The Angel offense was having its own problems solving right-hander Derek Lowe, who had a sparkling spring and then yielded seven runs in four innings of his first start against Seattle. Lowe had a strikeout in each of the first four innings and the Angels’ only hit through five was a slap shot to left by Garret Anderson in the second.

But Wallbeck led off the sixth with a looping single to right and, one out later, Darin Erstad ripped a double into the right-field corner. Dave Hollins was walked intentionally to load the bases for Tim Salmon, who promptly grounded a two-run single to left.

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