Short season perils: Angels' Mark Langston left a no-hitter after seven innings

The evening could not have been more elegant for the Angels. This was the grand opening, the debut of the man on whom they had made more money than any other pitcher in Major League history. The first seven words of The Times ‘report that night: “Mark Langston, the $ 16 million Angels’ man …”

The amount was a staggering amount at the time, it was spread over five years, but never before was a pitcher guaranteed even $ 10 million. Expectations were high at Anaheim Stadium on April 11, 1990, and Langston exceeded them.

Langston kept the Seattle Mariners hitless for seven innings. In the bottom of the seventh, the Angels scored with the bases loaded. Langston was six zeros from what would be the lone no-hitter of his distinguished career.

Then the bullpen gate opened, Mike Witt ran in, and pissed off the stands. The Angels had removed Langston with an intact no-hitter, in what could be a cautionary tale for the 2020 season when it started.

None of the captivating fans knew it at the time, but Langston had taken himself out of the game.

The shortened 2020 season, assuming there is one, would be preceded by a shortened training camp. In 1990, after owners locked out the players from the camp, the two sides reached a new employment contract on March 19. They settled for three weeks of spring training, half the usual time.

In his last start of that shortened spring, Langston worked four innings. In his Angels debut, he expected to throw five, the next step on the usual show jumping course for a starting pitcher to build his stamina. He came through seven and was more than exhausted.

“I couldn’t have made two more turns,” Langston said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t have the foundation to do that.”

Mark Langston played for the Angels from 1990-97.

(Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images)

Witt was warming up, aware that Langston was exhausting and unaware of the no-hitter going on. He had been driven off the starting spin by the arrival of Langston and his own awful feather, yet he wondered why the fans took him out before throwing a single throw.

“I was rooting for Mike anyway,” said Angels first baseman Wally Joyner after the game, “but then I was really rooting for him to lock up those people.”

Witt did that, retiring the last six batters to complete the no-hitter and the Angels’ 1-0 victory. The final hitter was the youngest player in that season’s major leagues, 20-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. The future Hall of Famer was swinging.

“It always felt like a glorified spring training game to me,” said Langston. ‘Really. If they go “combined no-hitter” and stuff, no. That was not the feeling. “

Mike Port, the general manager of the Angels, watched from his box. At the time, managers were running games without the front office having a game plan, and Port said he trusted manager Doug Rader to make the right decision. Port said he was not surprised to see Langston removed because the Angels had invested in him for five years.

“One of the reasons we went so far as to sign him was that he would become an integral part of the team,” Port said in a telephone interview.

“It was ultimately not about Mark Langston throwing a no-hitter. We wanted to have it around the 1990 season and function at its best. As much caution as seems to be used today with regard to pitchers, if the situation arose today I’m sure you’d see pretty much the same thing. “

It turned out that Rader Langston gave the final say.

“If he had been determined to stay indoors, I think we probably would have allowed it,” said Rader after the game. “When he got off the field in the seventh inning, he said, ‘I’m done.'”

In 1984, Witt had thrown a perfect game for the Angels.

Mike Witt

Mike Witt is congratulated by Reggie Jackson for throwing a perfect game against the Texas Rangers on September 30, 1984.

(Associated Press)

“It’s hard to get out of a game if you throw a no-hitter,” said Witt after the game in which Langston had done just that. “I don’t know if I would have done that.”

Langston, a four-time All-Star, said he has no regrets about leaving what could be his only career no-hitter. He threw 99 pitches and for this reason he suspects what happened to him after a short spring 30 years ago would not happen after a shortened training camp later this year.

“That would never work out in today’s scenario,” said Langston. “If they had only had spring training for three weeks, they would never have a man toss near 100 fields, never in a trillion years.

“In those days you did what you could do as long as you could.”

In 1990, the owners proposed a two-week spring training, with a 30-man roster for the first month of the season. The players insisted on three weeks of spring training and the squad was set at 27 for the first three weeks.

If baseball resumes this season, the framework is expected to be similar – a shortened training camp and a season that starts with elaborate rosters. Langston, now a broadcaster for the Angels, said he expects the starting pitchers to be ready for opening day.

“As the game is played in today’s world, they would be more than ready to go out those five turns,” he said.

However, Port was concerned. In 1990, reports circulated that the lockout was imminent, and players reported that they were in good shape. In 2020, the coronavirus outbreak has led to the closure of most gyms, training facilities and training complexes, and it is uncertain how well a pitcher can keep himself in shape indefinitely.

In addition, as Port noted, increased speed is associated with an increased risk of injury. In 1990 Langston threw his fastball 93-94 mph, well above the average at the time. Today, that fastball would be about average, so pitchers throwing so hard would be a big part of a team’s staff.

“Maximum effort boys on any field is likely to be more at risk of injuring themselves,” said Port.

Mark Langston box score

The box-score of Angels-pitcher Mark Langston’s early exit from a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on April 11, 1990.

(Los Angeles Times)

Langston went 10-17 with an average of 4.40 in 1990, the only season of 1987-1996 in which his performance was below the league average. Port said the short season ‘possibly’ played a part in his fight that year, but Langston said he didn’t believe it.

Instead, he pointed to a two-month period – June 5 to August 1 – during which he did not win. In eight out of ten games he started in that slip, the Angels scored no more than one point.

“I don’t think it had anything to do other than getting into a big mental funk,” he said. “I made that mess in my head.”

As a historic footnote, three of the last five Angels no-hitters are bundled, each with a unique twist: the Langston-Witt no-hitter in the man’s $ 16 million debut; the Jered Weaver-Jose Arredondo no-hitter in 2008, in a 1-0 defeat to the Dodgers; and the Taylor Cole-Felix Pena no-hitter last July, in the first home game after the death of Tyler Skaggs.

And, as Langston acknowledged, there would hardly be fanfare about a $ 16 million man today.

“The third and fourth men in the rotation are getting close,” Langston said with a laugh, “and that’s only for one season.”

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