Angels' Langston, unruffled by '90 skid, hopes to redeem himself

March 24, 1991|By Helene Elliott | Helene Elliott,Los Angeles Times

MESA, Ariz. -- If the eyes are the windows of the soul, Mark Langston's soul is carefully hidden behind blue shutters.

Through the worst days of his often dreadful first California Angels season, the days he was chewed up and spit out after 2 2/3 innings or, worse still, the days he pitched brilliantly but received little offensive support, never once did those blue eyes flash in anger in front of television cameras or reporters.

Never once, as he flailed toward a 10-17 record and an earned-run average of 4.40, was he seen kicking a bench or a water cooler.

According to a book by Dick Williams, who managed him when both were with the Seattle Mariners, Langston was a "gutless wonder."

Not even that jab ruffles the 30-year-old left-hander. Being cool, he says, doesn't mean he is uncaring. He simply feels no obligation to display his feelings to the world.

"I do my share of yelling and screaming and throwing things, but I do it in a situation where it's not visible," Langston said. "I want to stay under control."

If his control on the mound had been as precise last season as his control of his emotions, Langston would have had a nearly ideal life.

Three times the American League's strikeout leader, Langston was the grand prize in the 1989 free-agent stakes. He signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Angels, a hefty price for a pitcher with a lifetime 86-76 record but a gamble readily taken by a franchise seeking its first pennant in 30 years' existence.

The dream he was living proceeded nicely and had a perfect beginning. A no-hit beginning, as Langston pitched seven hitless innings against Seattle April 11 in his first Angels start. Mike Witt finished the no-hitter, and Langston's name was in the Angels' record books almost before the ink had dried on his contract.

"Early in the game, I was all over the place," said Langston, who walked four and struck out three in that 1-0 victory at Anaheim Stadium. "I was fortunate. They might have had a hit in one or two situations. It was nice, very nice, to get that under my belt. I would have liked to have continued like that."

All that continued was the Angels' inability to score runs for him.

Langston was 4-5 on June 10 when he faced the Texas Rangers. Although he gave up only two earned runs in eight innings and struck out 12, he lost, 2-1. In his next start, he gave up only one earned run and struck out 11 in eight innings at Detroit, but got no decision in the Angels' 2-1, 10-inning defeat.

June 20: Ten strikeouts and two unearned runs in eight innings at Chicago and another 2-1 defeat.

June 25: Four strikeouts and two unearned runs in eight innings against the Chicago White Sox at Anaheim Stadium, and a 2-0 loss.

That's six earned runs and 37 strikeouts in 32 innings, and nothing to show for it but three defeats and a no-decision. And no tantrums.

"That's part of baseball," he said. "I'm not the first guy ever to lose 2-1 ballgames. I've won my share of 2-1 and 1-0 games. Believe me, I was not satisfied. Even if you pitch halfway decent, you're never satisfied when you lose."

But soon, his performances were not halfway decent. Three times in five starts in late July and August, Langston lasted only 2 2/3 innings. Between June 10 and Aug. 12, he was 1-10 with two no-decisions.

He was baffled; he was frustrated. He could cite the inordinate number of two-out runs he gave up -- 51 percent of his total for the season -- and say that he needed to bear down, and he could say that he needed to cut down his walks, 104 in 223 innings. He insists that his difficulty was not caused by the

pressure of his hefty contract or because he did not want to win.

"I never once tried to be a $3 million pitcher," he said. "It's more of a media issue. I never, ever, felt I had to do something to try and prove myself. It was my sixth year, I had some good years under my belt and I felt I had established myself on the major-league level.

"Confidence plays such an important role in this game. I had four or five games when I was hit hard, and for some reason I wasn't able to clear them out of my mind. I started to become a defensive pitcher instead of an aggressive, offensive pitcher. It was very frustrating."

Those frustrations became apparent to his teammates, but in subtle ways.

"When he was going through that time when he was struggling to get people out, you could sense his frustration with the way he was being inconsistent with his pitches," Angels catcher Lance Parrish said. "He started pressing a little bit, rushing, trying to make things happen. He was losing those games and it was tough on him."

Langston's defeats reawakened questions about his competitiveness, which had been raised by Williams in the former manager's book, "No More Mr. Nice Guy." Williams recalled a 1987 game when Langston took a two-hitter into the ninth inning against Minnesota and gave up a hit and a walk to weak hitters because Langston "was giving up. Because he was tired. Because he wasn't tough enough.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.