Royals may be blue over slump, but they're not throwing in towel
On the way out of California's Anaheim Stadium, fans were saying that the Angels, who had just swept a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals, were in as champions of the American League West.
That put California three games ahead with only 10 left to play, but Manager Gene Mauch and his team weren't starting any celebrations yet. There's good reason for caution, too, with a schedule that still includes four games with the Texas Rangers in Arlington (where the Angels are only 33-46 lifetime), and three more big ones next week with the Royals in Kansas City.
Meanwhile across the way in the visitors' clubhouse reporters were asking KC Manager Dick Howser why the Royals, with the best won-lost record at home of any team in baseball, were 12 games under .500 on the road?
''I wish I knew the answer to that one, 'cause if I did I'd sure do something about it,'' Howser replied. ''Maybe our pitching has't been as good on the road as it has been in Kansas City, where we don't give up too many home runs. We certainly weren't that good in this series.''
The Royals have now lost seven straight games and have three more to go on the current road trip before returning to Kansas City to close out the season with a seven-game home stand.
Asked about Kansas City's high number of injuries this year, so many that the Royals have had their nine starters together for only 41 games, Howser said:
''If you're a big league team that feels it can win a pennant, then you prepare for injuries beforehand by building yourself a strong bench. I think we did that.
''The problem is that this year we've simply had an excessive number of people sidelined. And not having them has cost us some games we probably could have won. But I don't like to use that as an excuse, because all teams have to deal with injuries.''
The conversation then got around to relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry, who has appeared in 66 games for Kansas City and saved 33. How often, Howser was asked, would he use Quisenberry in what remained of the season?
''I don't like to go to Dan before the eighth or ninth inning if I can help it and then only in games where we have already established a lead,'' Dick explained. ''Occasionally, when we've gotten behind in the late innings against a team I felt we could come back and beat, I've brought him in to stop a rally. But then I've used someone else to pitch the remainder of the game.
''My feeling with Dan is that he's smart enough and strong enough to work three or even four days in a row without losing his effectiveness. That is, he's capable of this if I haven't had to pitch him more than an inning or two at a time and if he hasn't had to throw too many pitches.''
Until a few weeks ago, when he suddenly couldn't seem to win, Kansas City had a strong Cy Young Award candidate in 17-game winner Larry Gura. Since then Gura has tried four times for No. 18. But so far Larry is still on hold, with three losses and one no-decision during that period.
The other double-figure winners are Vida Blue and Dennis Leonard, although neither has a very impressive earned-run average. Then there is Paul Splittorff, a former 20-game winner (1973), who is probably going to have to settle for half that many victories this season.
As for Howser, he's an aggressive manager who likes to put pressure on the opposition by running, by bunting, and by having his players occasionally hit to the opposite field.
The other night in the top of the ninth against the Angels, with two out, catcher John Wathan on first base, and his team trailing by a run, Howser showed his gambling instincts by having Wathan try to steal second. John slid in safely , too, but the bold move went for nought as the next batter grounded out to end the game..
For the record, California's three game series with Kansas City, which drew 146,010 fans, helped the Angels set an American League season attendance mark of 2,627,417. California still has three home games left against the Texas Rangers.