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Despite others' streaks, balanced Angels pose main threat to A's


Beware the extended winning streak. It cannot be trusted. The Minnesota Twins are making a big play in the wild, wild American League West, but they will make a U-turn any day now. Bet the rent on it.

The Texas Rangers already have had their fun, winning 14 straight to enjoy a fleeting few hours in first place before heading back in the other direction. The Seattle Mariners have been streaking every which way, but to only mild success.

Present these examples to any weathered baseball man and he'll tell you that -- with few exceptions -- every team will have one big run in the course of the season. He might also tell you that the Baltimore Orioles are one of the exceptions, but that's another story and another divisional race.

Neither the Twins nor the Rangers have the talent or depth necessary to keep pace with the first-place Oakland Athletics -- even the injury-riddled Oakland Athletics, who won't be injury-riddled forever.

The team that seems best equipped for a legitimate challenge is the California Angels, who finally have the talent and depth to stay around for the long haul. They have not made a dramatic run, but they are in position to take full advantage if they make that big move.

Former New York Yankees Dave Winfield and Luis Polonia have contributed mightily. First baseman Wally Joyner is having his best season since 1987. The club's top four starters have been very effective, even if newly signed Fernando Valenzuela has not. The bullpen has been just this side of perfect in the late innings.

If anyone is to unseat the A's, it will have to be a team with the proper mix of pitching and punch. The Angels are the only contender that fits the description.


Incidentally, if the Angels do win the division title and their first pennant, a lot of the credit will have to go to deposed general manager Mike Port, who is looking for a job while the team he built is looking like a winner.

Port was fired by Angels president Richard Brown earlier this season because he was not a "people person," but he appears to have put the right people in the right places before he left.


Sure enough, not long after word came down that the National League had passed over Washington for an expansion franchise, new cries went up to challenge Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption and force baseball ownership to add more teams.

This is not a new concept. The Senate Task Force on Baseball Expansion (which, coincidentally, consisted of vote-hungry senators from states that were seeking expansion teams) gained prominence while Peter Ueberroth was commissioner, when it attempted to use the antitrust exemption to pressure ownership into a firm timetable for expansion.

It seemed curious then that Congress had time for such nonsense. It seems curious now that any right-thinking person would want the government to intervene in a successful and law-abiding private industry.


Is this going to be the year of the 20-game winner, or what?

The season is barely one-third complete, but there were 11 major-league pitchers who entered this weekend with eight victories or more and 24 with at least seven.

But there are two sides to every stat sheet. The Orioles do not have a pitcher with more than four victories. But if it's any consolation, they have two pitchers -- Jeff Ballard and Jose Mesa -- who are tied for a dubious league high with seven losses.


The Toronto Blue Jays thought that Jesse Barfield was washed two years ago. The Yankees seemed eager to trade him this spring. But Barfield has rebounded from a silent spring to burst onto the league-leader sheet.

He had five home runs and 16 RBI during the 8-4 homestand that recently lifted the Yankees into a surprisingly respectable place in the American League East standings.

Barfield has 13 home runs, second only to league-leader Dave Henderson. He is on pace to challenge his career high of 40, set in 1986, but there is a long, long way to go.

"It's possible," he told The New York Times. "I don't know. That's really not one of my goals. I know it sounds like a cliche, but I'm taking it one game at a time, one pitch at a time."

9- He's right. It does sound like a cliche.

Patriot Games: Major League Baseball has joined forces with the Coca-Cola Co., the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues and the Francis Scott Key Park Foundation to raise money for the Star-Spangled Banner Monument, which will be built in Washington and dedicated in 1993.

The soft-drink giant has pledged $5,000 for every home run hit at every major-league and minor-league ballpark in the United States and Canada July 4 or $1 million, whichever amount is greater. There are 100 games scheduled for that date.


Ex-Orioles on parade: Pete Harnisch of the Houston Astros continues to be one of the most effective pitchers in the National League. He entered Friday night's start against the New York Mets with opposing hitters batting a league-low .181 against him. Harnisch gave up two earned runs or fewer in nine of his first 11 starts and owns the only two complete games recorded by the Houston rotation -- both 1-0 victories. But the light-hitting Astros have not supported him very well. He is only 4-4, despite rTC a 2.15 ERA that ranked second in the NL and fourth in the majors.


If the Astros moved to St. Petersburg, would anyone in Houston even notice?

The club is averaging less than 13,000 in attendance and stands an excellent chance of coming up short of a million this season. The Astros are on a pace to draw 1,032,833, but 26 of their 48 remaining home dates come after Aug. 19, the day most schools open in the Houston area.


The Angels placed Valenzuela on the 15-day disabled list after a physical examination revealed a cardiac irregularity. Doctors indicated that the test results might be deceptive, but the club was taking no chances with one of Southern California's most popular sports heroes.

Valenzuela did not pitch well in his first two starts with the Angels, leaving room to wonder whether he'll return to the rotation. Even if he doesn't, the team will have gotten a solid return on the $300,000 base salary Valenzuela will receive this year.

In his two games, Valenzuela drew an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 more fans than the club would otherwise have expected. That, plus Valenzuela's community-relations value, makes the decision to sign him a good one.


Cal Ripken's two-hit performance Friday night was his 28th multiple-hit game of the season, which kept him atop the American League rankings in that department. He had only 27 the entire 1990 season.


Texas Rangers ace Nolan Ryan has as many no-hitters this year one) as the rest of the Rangers starting rotation has complete games. Bobby Witt is the only other starter to go the distance, and he is out with a rotator-cuff problem that has been linked to his 138-pitch complete-game performance on a 41-degree night in Cleveland April 18.

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