California manager Gene Mauch is not one to share his strategy with reporters. Ask him about playing the percentages and he'll tell you: ``We can't talk about percentages because my percentages aren't the same as yours. You wouldn't understand what's relevant.'' Mauch has always done a lot of lineup switching, but even by his standards this year's juggling act has been something special. The evidence is in the box scores, which show that the defending American League West champions used 77 different starting lineups in their first 107 games.
By thus spotting people off his bench and occasionally resting his veterans, Mauch has managed to compensate for (a) not having free-agent catcher Bob Boone available until early May, and (b) a run of player absences due to injuries and other reasons. At various times Gene has had to go for weeks without starting pitchers Kirk McCaskill and John Candelaria, relief ace Donnie Moore, and slick-fielding shortstop Dick Schofield.
Beyond that, Mauch has gambled and won with two rookies in his starting lineup: second baseman Mark McLemore and outfielder Devon White, the latter also doing a super RBI job. In fact, if Oakland's Mark McGwire weren't having such a great season, White would have a shot at Rookie of the Year.
In a division where often this year Minnesota, California, Oakland, Kansas City, Texas, and Seattle have all been as close as the strings in a harp, Mauch thinks 89 victories (maybe even 88) will be good enough to win. As to which of these teams will emerge on top, the only thing he will readily admit is that the Angels probably have as good a chance as any of their rivals.
One thing that helped California gear up for the stretch drive was the late July arrival of Bill Buckner from Boston. The former National League batting champion still has that wonderful and consistent talent for steering balls past infielders, between outfielders, and close to the foul line, and also adds left-handed power. In his first week or so in Anaheim, Bill played several games at first base, appeared as a DH and a pinch-hitter, and came up with a number of key hits including a three-run homer.
But Mauch obviously needs Schofield back; a healthy Moore, if he can get him; more consistency from his middle relievers; and a stronger job from some of those big-name starters.
Gene has been using McCaskill, even though he is just off the disabled list and without his best stuff, in the hope that steady work will get him ready for those key stretch contests. Candelaria, meanwhile, made an encouraging return last week. The veteran left-hander, who spent 46 days on the disabled list following two arrests for alleged drunken driving, beat Minnesota for his first win since June 5. Mauch also hopes to start getting a bit more from Mike Witt, who has pitched well this year but not as strongly as in '86.
Mauch gets Manager of the Year honors in my book if the Angels repeat as division champions this season, and maybe (because of all the adversity he has had to overcome) even if they don't! Elsewhere in the major leagues
Montreal's starting infield has a chance to achieve a batting plateau that hasn't been reached in more than half a century. The way first baseman Andr'es Galarraga, second baseman Vance Law, third baseman Tim Wallach, and shortstop Hubie Brooks are hitting, they could all finish above .300. The last team to do this was the 1930 St. Louis Cardinals, with Jim Bottomley (.304) at first base; Frankie Frisch (.346) at second; Sparky Adams (.314) at third, and Charley Gilbert (.304) at shortstop.
From batting coach Moose Stubing of the California Angels on rookie slugger Mark McGwire of the Oakland A's: ``The first time I saw that compact swing of McGwire's I was impressed, because not too many hitters have it. But I did have some reservations about his upright batting stance, plus the fact that his feet seemed too far apart. Well, the next time I see him he's adopted a mild crouch, and his feet are so much closer together that now he appears almost pigeon-toed in the batter's box. I don't know whether he did this on his own or someone on the A's changed him. But as a result, he's an even better hitter than he was before.''