For those who insist this Angel franchise is not cursed--and the number of those folks seems to dwindle by the hour--how would you explain the horror of Mo Vaughn, barely five minutes into his $80-million Angel career, tumbling into the first-base dugout in pursuit of a foul popup Tuesday night?
That the Angels beat the Cleveland Indians, 6-5, in a scintillating season opener before 39,936 in Edison Field seemed secondary to the fact that while the Angels rallied in the last two innings, Vaughn was on his way to a hospital for precautionary X-rays--they were negative--on what was diagnosed as a sprained left ankle.
Here’s what Vaughn missed: After tying the game, 5-5, with a two-run rally in the seventh, Angel third baseman Troy Glaus ripped an RBI double in the eighth to score Garret Anderson with the winning run, and Troy Percival pitched a 1-2-3 ninth against his longtime nemesis for the save.
Percival, who has an 0-5 career record and 7.50 earned-run average against Cleveland, faced the heart of the Indian order, retiring Roberto Alomar on a groundout, Jim Thome on an infield pop, and punctuating a strikeout of Manny Ramirez with a triple-pump of his right fist.
Tim Salmon had opened the eighth with a single off Indian reliever Steve Karsay but was ruled out when Anderson’s grounder nicked him on the foot between first and second.
Todd Greene lined to third for the second out, but Glaus, with Anderson running from first on a 2-2 pitch, doubled to the gap in left-center to score Anderson with the go-ahead run.
The Indians had threatened in the eighth, putting runners on first and third when Wil Cordero and Sandy Alomar singled off reliever Mark Petkovsek. But left-hander Mike Holtz came on and fielded Kenny Lofton’s comebacker, starting a rundown that resulted in pinch-runner Jolbert Cabrera getting called out for running out of the baseline.
Omar Vizquel, who homered in the third and singled and scored in the fifth, then flied to left to end the inning.
Glaus also had a hand in a two-run seventh. Trailing, 5-3, he blooped a one-out single to right off Cleveland starter Jaret Wright, and Matt Walbeck followed with an infield single off Wright’s glove.
Andy Sheets, who has the daunting task of replacing injured shortstop Gary DiSarcina, followed with an RBI single to left-center, Glaus scoring, Walbeck hustling to third and Sheets taking second.
Darin Erstad then lofted a fly ball to shallow left, where Richie Sexson, who replaced the injured David Justice (strained left calf) in the second, made the catch. Walbeck tagged and Sexson threw high to the plate, as Walbeck slid in with the tying run.
The Angels opened 1999 with eight players on the disabled list, and they’re hoping Vaughn isn’t No. 9 after his fluke fall. As the Angel first baseman ranged to his left on Omar Vizquel’s first-inning popup, he suddenly ran out of room in front of the Indian dugout.
Vaughn fell three steps, from the top of the dugout all the way to the dugout floor--a height of about three feet. He landed on his feet, a near miracle, but twisted his left ankle in the process. (The Angels moved the fences in for Vaughn this season--what’s next, safety nets in the dugouts?)
Then, while flying out to left field in the bottom of the first, Vaughn appeared to exacerbate the injury on his swing. When Angel starter Tim Belcher finished his warmups for the top of the second, there was no Mo.
Turns out Vaughn was in the training room getting a quick tape job on the ankle. But when he finally popped out of the dugout he hobbled to first, grimacing every time he put any weight on his left foot.
Vaughn remained in the game, which is no big shock--he played most of the 1996 season despite a broken middle finger on his right hand and said the only time he asks out of the lineup “is when I can’t walk.”
It wasn’t known if Vaughn could walk by the top of the sixth, but the ankle stiffened up to the point where he couldn’t continue, and Collins replaced him with Jeff Huson.
By then, the Angels had squandered a 3-2 lead, as the Indians scored three runs in the top of the fifth to make it 5-3.
Sandy Alomar, Kenny Lofton and Vizquel opened the fifth with singles off Belcher, Vizquel’s broken-bat flare to right scoring Alomar with the tying run, and Lofton scored when Salmon’s low throw to second caromed off Sheets’ glove and into shallow left field.
Ramirez capped the inning with an RBI single that knocked Belcher, who gave up five runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings, out of the game.
The Indians scored their first two runs when Lofton and Vizquel ripped back-to-back pitches in the second, Lofton for a triple and Vizquel for a two-run homer to right, his 30th homer in 4,624 career major league at-bats.
The Angels came back with a run in the second on singles by Walbeck and Sheets and Erstad’s RBI groundout, and they took a 3-2 lead on back-to-back home runs by Salmon, a liner to center, and Anderson, a bomb to right, off Wright.
ANGELS / BY THE NUMBERS
21-18: Angel record in season openers
5: Innings played by Mo Vaughn before first baseman left with effects of ankle injury suffered in first inning.
$82,304: Amount Vaughn earns per game, based on 162-game season.
2: Angeles in same position they played in last year’s opener (Tim Salmon, RF; Matt Walbeck, C)
39,930: Attendance at opener (capacity is 45,050)
DIANE PUCIN: Mo Vaughn gave his usual pregame pep talk to his teammates, but for a while, it appeared as though he might not get to bat as an Angel. Page 7
NOTES: Terry Collins is keeping a 12th pitcher on the roster so he doesn’t have to worry about wearing out his starters in the early going. Page 7