The numbers indicate that the quality has suffered only a little with the years. Jackson is hitting .263 and is second in the AL in on-base percentage at .408. Downing is hitting .270, with 12 homers and 56 RBIs, and DeCinces has 13 home runs and 57 runs batted in. Boone, fourth on the alltime list for games caught, is still gunning down base stealers at a rate of better than 50%. And the redoubtable Sutton has won 8 of his last 10 decisions.
"The age thing has been written every year since 1981," says Downing. "People look too much at age and not the other things that make a winning team. Look around this room and you see so many guys with very strict training regimens. Reggie, myself, Rick Burleson, Boone with his martial arts program."
Enter most postgame locker rooms and the players are feasting. Enter the Angels' domain, and many are working out with weights or stretching. After Friday's game at the Kingdome, Boone was seen wearing a weightlifter's belt and hauling around dumbbells.
But then, the Angels have been carrying around the weight of an uncertain tomorrow all season. "There is a very strong feeling this is probably our last time together as a group, particularly if we don't win it," says Downing. "And that's a driving force. Management has come right out in saying they would like to move us out. But, hey, winning might take care of that."
Manager Mauch bristles at the notion that this is the Last Roundup. Well, more than bristles, actually. "I never give that issue any consideration," he says curtly. "During spring training, anyone who mentioned it to me, well, it made me thoroughly disgusted. That's not the way a player should think."
Yet it was Mauch himself who held a May meeting in which he told his veterans that if the Angels did not get "over the hump" this season, many of them would be gone. California general manager Mike Port says he would like eventually to operate with roughly 90% of his players coming from within the organization, and he has several players in the minors ready to step in a la Joyner, who is hitting .309 with 21 homers and 74 RBIs. "If you look at your team with your heart and keep veterans around for the sake of being sentimental, you're lost," says Port. "It's performance that counts. Performance of late."
"Ninety wins," says Mauch, who is still chasing the White Whale, i.e., his first pennant. "I want 90 in the worst way. That's all I think about day after day after day. I don't believe anybody else in our division can win 90."
The Angels got off to a slow start, partly due to disabled-list stints by Candelaria and ace reliever Donnie Moore, 32. They also had the distractions of Wallyworld, Reggie's 537th homer (to pass Mickey Mantle) and Sutton's 300th win. But they closed ground on Texas by beating them six straight times over two weeks in June, and they took over first place on July 7.
Of course, getting to first place has never been a problem with the Angels. Staying there into October has been the hitch. "For four out of five years, we've been there in September, but we haven't closed," says Jackson. "The great teams I played on always closed.... The difference this year, though, is the pitching can get us through those last 30 games." Says Downing, "Our pitching and defense are the best I've seen in nine years here." The Angels simply do not beat themselves.
Mike Witt and Kirk McCaskill are the 1-2 punch in the starting rotation, two young pitchers with strikeout and complete game capabilities. Witt, 11-7, is second in the league in innings, third in ERA and fifth in strikeouts. McCaskill, or "Dr. McK," is third in strikeouts and fifth in ERA with a record of 12-7.