A funny thing happened to the California Angels' Jim Abbott on his way to a shutout over the Orioles.
He was removed from the game. After only 88 pitches, with a five- hitter and a 5-0 lead over the Orioles through seven innings, Abbott was lifted by manager Doug Rader.
What happened next bordered on tragedy. Abbott and the Angels lost their shutout and nearly the game when Randy Milligan hit his first major-league grand slam off reliever Bryan Harvey in the eighth inning. But the Orioles wound up with their 20th one-run loss of the season last night, 5-4.
Abbott didn't question Rader's wisdom. He was hot and tired, and his left elbow has been somewhat tender. Eighty-eight pitches on a steamy Baltimore night was about right.
"His tender elbow is nothing to be concerned about or something that requires rest, just conservative treatment," Rader said. "Common sense."
"I can't let it become a macho thing," Abbott said. "We've got to consider the long term."
Abbott had been looking forward to the evening for days. He knew he would face his teammate on the 1988 U.S. Olympic squad, the Orioles' Ben McDonald. Abbott was 1-0 in the Olympics, McDonald 2-0. McDonald beat Puerto Rico to set up the gold medal game, in which Abbott defeated Japan.
Last night they faced each other for the first time at any level.
"It was nice, exciting," Abbott said. "Ben's a good friend. It brought back memories."
McDonald was 3-0 against the Angels in three lifetime starts. Abbott came in 3-0 against the Orioles. Someone had to lose, and it was McDonald.
Abbott, who was born without a right hand, is 8-7 overall, but 8-3 in his last 16 starts. In the five no-decisions during his recent prosperity, the bullpen has blown four save opportunities.
When Rader talks about Abbott, he cites the "educational process," just as the Orioles do with McDonald. Two years ago, Abbott was a thrower, period. Last year, because of a short spring training caused by the strike, Abbott tried to learn on the job.
"This year," Rader said, "since his first three or four starts, he has reached a nice balance."