The first-place California Angels are at home and righthander Jim Slaton is struggling. The 15-year veteran is trying to recall his favorite defensive play by centerfielder Gary Pettis but is having a hard time with the details. "The one when I was pitching this year and he jumped over the fence and brought the ball back," says Slaton, who remembers that he won the game but forgets the team he faced. Minnesota, he thinks.
Slaton scans the clubhouse for Pettis, finds him and asks for help. The 27-year-old outfielder laughs and says, "No, that wasn't Minnesota. It was Toronto, a drive by Jesse Barfield. I've saved you so many times, you can't remember."
If Pettis's defensive gems are starting to blur in people's minds, that's because he has had so many in his season and a half with the Angels. Here is an eye-feasting menu, featuring the catch of the day:
?April 12, 1984—Pettis runs down Davey Lopes's long drive to save a 3-2 win over Oakland. "One of the greatest catches I've ever seen," Lopes says.
?April 27, 1984—Pettis runs from right center to left center, dives and, extended horizontally about a foot off the ground, backhands a sinking one-iron by Seattle's Dave Henderson. This is manager Gene Mauch's personal favorite.
?April 18, 1985—In Minnesota, Pettis robs Tom Brunansky of an extra-base hit in the eighth, then reaches above the fence to steal a game-tying homer from Mike Stenhouse in the ninth.
?May 2, 1985—He hijacks Barfield's homer. Canadian telecasters ask high jumper Dwight Stones to analyze the leap. Barfield later requests that Pettis stick to stealing bases.
Only reliever Donnie Moore (with 15) has earned more saves for the Angels than Pettis, who makes the sensational common. Like two weeks ago in Chicago, when the White Sox' Harold Baines cracked a drive to center with two men on. Pettis caught the ball above the 11-foot wall, then held onto it as he smashed into the fence. The catch was spectacular but Mauch, who has come to expect such plays, says, "It gets no rating from me."
Before the 1984 season, four-time Gold Glove winner Fred Lynn moved from center to right to make room for Pettis, then a rookie. So his great fielding didn't exactly come as a surprise to the Angels. But they still are in awe. "He's made more good plays already this year than I've seen a centerfielder make in an entire year, including Paul Blair," says California second baseman Bobby Grich, Blair's former teammate with the Orioles.
Because of Pettis, Angel broadcasters now have what literary savants call a "willing suspension of disbelief." Listen to KMPC's Al Conin call Barfield's drive on May 2: