The California Angels did not look like a first-place team tonight, and when they left the field after a 6-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, they had dropped out of first place in the American League West for the first time since June 21. Kansas City, by beating Milwaukee twice, took the lead by one-half game.
Dennis Martinez and Sammy Stewart limited the Angels to four hits as Martinez beat California for the third time this season. Cal Ripken and Larry Sheets each had three hits, including a home run apiece, for Baltimore, which leapfrogged Detroit into third place in the AL East.
The Angels, 3-5 on this trip and unable to put victories back to back since Aug. 23, fell to .500 on foreign fields, a notable contrast to their 41-25 record at home.
Asked if he was eager to return to Anaheim and try to turn things around, Manager Gene Mauch said, "We knew this was going to be a tough trip and we'll salvage what we can out of it. I wish we'd play another game right now, so I'd have a chance to get the taste out of my mouth."
Two plays in particular were galling to Mauch, a perfectionist who somehow never has won a pennant in 24 years as a major league manager.
In the third inning, with the score tied, 1-1, California starter Ron Romanick walked Rick Dempsey and Alan Wiggins. Romanick then handled John Shelby's bunt and turned to throw to first, only to find himself without a target as second baseman Bobby Grich was slow to cover. Ripken's single to right sent the Orioles ahead to stay and another run scored as hitless Eddie Murray, now in a one-for-25 slump, grounded into a double play.
In the eighth, the Orioles had runners on first and third with two out. Jim Dwyer broke from first and reliever Urbano Lugo turned and threw to second, which enabled Lenn Sakata to score easily from third.
Lugo, who came off the disabled list today, appeared to reinjure his left foot during the rundown of Dwyer.Asked about it, Mauch disgustedly said, "That's the kind of play you ought to get hurt on."
The last time the Angels were here, Martinez beat them with a one-hitter. Tonight, he allowed a leadoff single to Rod Carew, who scored on an error by second baseman Wiggins, and then held California hitless until the seventh, when he permitted two singles and a second run. Martinez (12-8) walked only one and at one stage retired 14 in a row.
Mauch rationalized, "Maybe I shouldn't be that concerned with Dennis Martinez pitching well against us. I know we can hit better than that, but that's twice against him we haven't."
Ripken touched Romanick for RBI singles in the first and third, then hit his 22nd homer off Lugo in the seventh. Ripken has four homers and 10 RBI in the last four games and his 13-game hitting streak is the longest current string in the AL.
Sheets, a left-handed batter whose opposite-field homer sent Romanick to the showers in the fourth, has eight hits in 16 at bats on this homestand. After batting .140 from June 24 to July 30, Sheets has hit .328 over the last 17 games he has played.
Except for Wiggins' first-inning error, Orioles fans had only one uneasy moment. That came in the eighth, after Stewart walked Carew and Juan Beniquez. With two out, Brian Downing lined a foul to left that momentarily threatened to tie the game. Stewart then struck him out with a changeup.