Valenzuela lures big crowd --and wrath of Tigers' bats

June 09, 1991|By Helene Elliott | Helene Elliott,Los Angeles Times

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Fernando Valenzuela's debut with the California Angels was a smash at the box office -- and a smash at the plate for the Detroit Tigers.

Tony Phillips and Lou Whitaker hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning Friday, two of nine hits given up by Valenzuela in his first major-league appearance since Sept. 30 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I know I can do better and I hope I can do better next time," Valenzuela said.

Pitching before a season-high crowd of 49,977 at Anaheim Stadium, Valenzuela was hit hard in the late stages of his five-plus innings and took the defeat in California's 5-0 loss to Detroit.

The crowd included a Friday walk-up sale of 9,356, making sales of 25,00 tickets since Valenzuela was added to the pitching rotation.

Valenzuela, who became the 54th player and 26th pitcher to play for both the Angels and Dodgers, gave up an unearned run in the first inning and maneuvered his way through the second, third and fourth. Two-out homers by Phillips and Whitaker in the fifth were the first signs that his comeback might not have a happy ending, and the Tigers hit him hard in the sixth.

He yielded a double to Cecil Fielder and a single to Pete Incaviglia before being taken out, and both eventually scored. The loss ended the Angels' five-game winning streak.

The pitcher wouldn't confess to having a case of the nerves but said things got easier after the first inning.

"I started loosening up," he said. "All my pitches worked worked fine."

Angels manager Doug Rader praised Valenzuela's performance, saying it was better than he had predicted.

"The job he did was excellent," Rader said. "I was unbelievably surprised and very gratified to see how he threw the ball."

The hoopla surrounding Valenzuela overshadowed the four-hitter pitched by former Angel Frank Tanana (3-5), who hadn't won at Anaheim Stadium since June 18, 1984, while with the Texas Rangers.

Valenzuela started off slowly, giving up a double down the left-field line to Phillips and an infield hit to Whitaker that put runners at first and third with no one out. He almost escaped, but second baseman Luis Sojo dropped Incaviglia's popup, an error that allowed Phillips to score.

Although the Tigers were baffled by Valenzuela's repertoire in fTC their second look at him, they caught up to him the third time around. After getting Shelby and Allanson to take third strikes in the fourth inning, Phillips reached out and powered a 3-and-2 pitch into the left-field seats for his fifth home run of the season.

Whitaker also took Valenzuela to a full count before lining a home run, this one into the right-field seats. Almost unnoticed in the swirl of Fernandomania was Tanana's performance. He didn't allow a base runner until Dave Parker doubled to lead off the fifth, and Parrish put him in a precarious situation with a single up the middle that sent Parker to third. But Tanana retired Dave Gallagher on a fly to shallow center, struck out Jack Howell looking and got Sojo to pop to the catcher in foul territory.

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