Ailing Angels graced with schedule break


May 16, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Anaheim Angels may be living under a 38-year curse -- the circumstances of the early months of the 1999 season certainly point in that direction -- but there is another way to look at the rash of injuries that kept them from getting out of the gate in the American League West.

They are a sleeping giant.

The New York Yankees might have to agree. The Angels just swept a three-game series at Yankee Stadium for the first time in 15 years, and did it with a combination of solid pitching and timely hitting. The Angels remain under .500, but if they can buy enough time to get close to full strength again, they could emerge this summer as an AL power house.

Think about it. They lost shortstop Gary DiSarcina to a freak injury at the start of spring training. They lost $81 million free agent Mo Vaughn to an ankle sprain on Opening Day. They lost center fielder Jim Edmonds and starting pitcher Jason Dickson and reliever Mike James, not to mention Jack McDowell.

Now, they're going to have to do without right fielder Tim Salmon for more than a month.

The only thing they've got going for them is the schedule. They just completed a traditionally grueling nine-game East Coast road trip and come right back East after a weekend at home against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but they do not play another team with a winning record until their interleague series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 4.

They have 18 straight games against teams that entered the weekend with sub-.500 records, including six games against the struggling Orioles and six games against a Devil Rays club that just got swept by the last-place Minnesota Twins.

If ever there was an opportunity to hold the fort, this is it.

The three-game sweep in New York had the Yankees talking to themselves. They held a couple of team meetings to try to figure out why they've played sub-.500 baseball for the past couple of weeks, but they still are in control of the American League East.

The Angels have been near the bottom of the AL West standings for the past couple of weeks, but that isn't saying much. No one has been particularly dominant in a division that -- top to bottom -- has been separated by just three or four games for much of the early season.

Maybe this will be the ultimate test of Vaughn's leadership skills. He hit his sixth home run in Thursday night's 2-0 victory and was the main man in Tuesday night's 9-7 win. He has proven that he can carry a team, but he'll have to carry this team for quite awhile before reinforcements arrive.

Astros take charge

The Houston Astros put the spunky Pittsburgh Pirates in their place with a three-game sweep in which they outscored the Bucs, 31-10. The lopsided combined score was helped by a 19-8 victory on Tuesday, but the Astros dominated all three games and deflated a resilient Pirates club that had just taken three of four from the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

"We came in here feeling pretty good after a good series at St. Louis," Pirates manager Gene Lamont said Wednesday, "but they really took it to us."

Astros starters were a combined 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in the series, which increased Houston's lead in the National League Central to a season-high four games.

Belle-like intensity

Orioles outfielder Albert Belle isn't the only player who occasionally vents his in-game frustration on inanimate objects. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson smashed the mirror in the restroom behind the home dugout at BankOne Ballpark on Monday night.

Hanging slider? Fat fastball?

Neither. Johnson was mad because he failed to get a bunt down.

Help on the way?

If the Orioles are looking for another solid starting pitcher, they might want to contact the Diamondbacks, who are rumored to be interested in moving veteran starter Andy Benes.

The catch: Benes has a player option for the 2000 season worth $6 million and a no-trade clause, so agent Scott Boras would have a ton of leverage to negotiate an extension with any team interested in acquiring him.

The D'backs apparently are looking for a strong reliever (Arthur Rhodes?) to beef up the bullpen in the late innings, but might be more likely to deal with the Cardinals, since there is little doubt that Benes would accept a deal to go back there.

A dose of perspective

While the Orioles bemoan a growing number of empty seats in the upper deck at Camden Yards, they need only look to the South Side of Chicago to realize how fortunate they are.

The Chicago White Sox were averaging just 12,448 fans a game through Wednesday, even though they play in one of the biggest, wealthiest cities in the world. That projects to a total attendance of 983,392 over the course of the season (factoring in two dates lost to rain), which would be their first sub-million season since 1976.

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who no longer can take solace in the success of his NBA Bulls, remains stoic.

"I don't pay attention to it," Reinsdorf told the Chicago Tribune. "It will be what it will be."

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