ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA — ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Fernando Valenzuela wanted Friday evening to be electric, just like the Hollywood nights that made him a legend so many years ago. The thousands of fans who lined up outside Anaheim Stadium to see him wanted the same thing, but their aging idol had only the stuff of humans.
Valenzuela's return to Southern California was far from triumphant. He lasted four innings and gave up three home runs as the California Angels scored a 8-4 victory over the Orioles in the opener of a three-game series.
The Orioles had arrived at the Big A on a modest roll, but the matchup with the Angels featured a hefty dose of role-reversal. Wasn't it the Orioles who were expected to be somewhere near the top of the standings and the Angels who were going nowhere?
Apparently not. The Angels moved into sole possession of first place in the American League West with the victory and continue to turn youth and inexperience into unexpected assets. The Orioles continue to solidify their position near the bottom of the AL East standings, despite the positive developments of the past week.
Too bad for them that Valenzuela's fortunes did not change last night. It doesn't seem to matter how he pitches -- the results usually are the same. But there was no injustice this time. He pitched poorly and took the loss, dropping his record to 1-5 and raising his ERA to 4.69.
It had to be a major disappointment, but Valenzuela tried to pass it off as just another game. If he wanted to show everyone that there was still some Fernandomania left in his left arm, he denied it emphatically afterward.
"I don't have to show anybody anything," he said. "I know I'm coming back to Southern California and people think that I'm going to try and go out and do something special, but I just didn't have my good location."
He had trouble finding the plate from the very beginning, and when he did find it, he found too much of it. It was the first time he had walked more than three batters this season and the first time he had given up three home runs in a game since 1988.
"He was missing bad," manager Johnny Oates said. "That's exactly what I told him when I went out to get him, 'that old location deserted you tonight, kid.' "
The Valenzuela experiment remains a success, but the numbers after his first eight starts are not particularly inspiring. If that left room to wonder how patient the club will be with him over the next few starts, Oates didn't see why.
"The body of his work is better than all but a couple of our pitchers," Oates said. "What's his ERA? What's Sutcliffe's . . . about the same and he's 5-2. What's McDonald's . . . about the same. They've all given up about five runs a game and we're scoring three. If you want to be 6-2, you've got to give up 2 1/2 ."
If nothing else, Valenzuela proved last night that he can still pack them in. His first Southern California appearance in nearly two years drew a crowd of 37,162 to the Big A. There was a promotional giveaway -- free mugs to the first 20,000 fans -- but there was no question that Valenzuela had much to do with an at tendance figure that was about 10,000 above the Angels' season average. The walk-up crowd was 11,778.
No doubt, he wanted badly to show them a flash of the brilliance that had characterized his 10-year career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but his performance in the early innings was more reminiscent of the two games he lost here during his aborted first comeback attempt with the Angels in 1991.
His return might have been triumphant if his control had been as sharp as in his five previous starts, but he walked two of the first three batters he faced in the first inning and gave up a run on a chopper over third base by former Oriole Rene Gonzales.
The Angels struck again in the third inning, and with significantly more brute force. Center fielder Chad Curtis led off with a home run into the left-field bleachers and Chili Davis followed shortly thereafter with a two-run shot down the left-field line. In between, there was another costly walk.
Valenzuela struggled into the fifth inning, but his control did not improve. He gave up a leadoff home run to Tim Salmon and walked Davis before Oates finally brought on Mark Williamson in relief. The Orioles made a run at Angels starter Julio Valera and a parade of relief pitchers during the middle innings, but couldn't get their starting pitcher off the hook.
The crowd gave Valenzuela a warm ovation as he left the field, but it provided small consolation for a proud pitcher who had HTC waited a long time for a chance to erase the memory of his earlier appearances in Anaheim.