By Joe Haakenson, AngelsWin.com Contributor -
GAME 61 - PIRATES AT ANGELS
ANAHEIM -- Oh, sure, Angels manager Mike Scioscia would love to see his club blow out the opponent every night. But winning the close ones is what playoff contenders need to do, and Scioscia could not have drawn up Monday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates any better.
The Angels got a solid outing from starter Jarrod Washburn, who got help from middle reliever Ben Weber and closer Troy Percival (14th save). Troy Glaus and Garret Anderson hit home runs to provide the bulk of the offense and the Angels came away 4-3 winners before 16,861 at Edison Field.
With the win, the Angels remained one game behind first-place Seattle in the A.L. West.
Washburn (6-2) won his sixth consecutive decision after giving up three runs and six hits in 6 1/3 innings. Since starting the season 0-2 in his first three starts, Washburn is 6-0 with a 2.85 ERA in his past 10 starts, but he said Monday's game was not one of his better ones.
``Really, tonight I had pretty bad command,'' said Washburn, who had not won at home since last July 24, covering 13 starts. ``I got away with some pitches early. I'm really not happy with my performance, but we won. That's all that matters.''
Right about the time Washburn took off, so did the Angels.
Since going 6-14 to begin the season, the Angels are 31-10, and their mark of 37-24 is the franchise's best ever through 61 games. But as well as the Angels have played for the last six weeks, one cannot detect a sense of satisfaction from the players, nor from Scioscia in particular.
``We're not raising any banners up here,'' Scioscia said. ``We recognize the challenge in front of us. Our goal is not to play good baseball for six weeks, our goal is to play good baseball for six months.''
The Angels, however, have won games in unlikely fashion. They've gotten a league-leading three grand slams from 5-foot-7 shortstop David Eckstein, leading some to believe maybe it's destiny for the Angels. Not so, says Scioscia.
``This has nothing to do with fate,'' Scioscia said. ``We're going to have to earn it, and we're not going to underestimate the work involved.''
The Angels got to work right away in Monday's game. After Washburn got a double-play ball to get out of the top of the first, Glaus broke a 0-for-9 slide with his 13th homer of the season with Darin Erstad on base to put the Angels up, 2-0.
Washburn allowed only two hits through five innings, and in the bottom of the fifth, Anderson matched Glaus with his 13th homer of the season to increase the Angels' lead to 3-0.
Tim Salmon followed with a pop fly to shallow right-center that fell among second baseman Pokey Reese, right fielder Craig Wilson and center fielder Chad Hermansen. Scott Spiezio bunted Salmon to second, and one out later Benji Gil's bloop single to center score Salmon to give the Angels a 4-0 lead.
Washburn admitted he was ``gassed'' by the seventh inning, when the Pirates rallied with three runs, one on Wilson's solo homer. After the homer, Kevin Young, Reese and pinch hitter Rob Mackowiak each doubled, scoring two more runs to make it 4-3.
But Weber, who replaced Washburn after Reese's double, worked his way out of the seventh with the lead intact. Weber, who will be Percival's primary set-up man while Al Levine recovers from a sore right shoulder, came up big in the eighth with the heart of the Pirates order up. Jason Kendall opened in the inning with a single, but Weber needed four pitches -- all off-speed -- to strike out cleanup hitter Brian Giles.
Weber then got Aramis Ramirez on a fly to right and Wilson on a comebacker, setting the stage for Percival in the ninth. Percival gave up a two-out single to Mackowiak but retired Hermansen on a liner to left to end it.
``The way you win tight ballgames is with execution,'' Scioscia said. ``Some parts of the game we did and others we didn't. But the important part of any championship-caliber club is to get the last couple outs leading up to your closer and tonight we did that.''
ANAHEIM -- Though he experienced ``tightness'' in his right forearm in his last start, Kevin Appier will make his 13th start of the season tonight against the Pirates right on schedule.
``I'm just not throwing a certain pitch a certain way anymore,'' said Appier, who has lost his past three starts. ``I've got a different way to throw that pitch to make it just as effective.''
Appier wouldn't say what pitch it was that was bothering his forearm, but when pressed he joked it was his knuckleball. Still, manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black will keep an eye on Appier, realizing there's no reason to force things with so much of the season still remaining.
So far, the Angels have been fortunate regarding injuries to their starters -- they've had none. The Angels are the only team in the American League and one of two in the majors (Mets) to have all five starters in their rotation to begin the season make all of their starts.
Every other team in baseball has had at least six pitchers make at least one start. One team -- the Cardinals -- have used 11 starters and two teams -- the Royals and Blue Jays -- have used 10 starters.
``Absolutely we strived for that,'' Black said of having all five starters make all their starts. ``We brought those guys together on the first day of spring training and said our goal is to have each and every one of you make all your starts. We've made it a priority to focus on conditioning and delivery mechanics.''
Scioscia, however, said using five pitchers exclusively isn't a requirement for winning.
``At some point in the season there might be a time when you have to throw somebody (else) in there,'' Scioscia said. ``Having five guys go the whole way is very uncommon. You want that continuity, but it won't have a major impact if you use seven or eight starters during a season. Where there's an impact is when you have 15 or 16 guys like we had a couple years ago.''
Reliever Al Levine went for an MRI exam on his right shoulder Monday and results were normal. He'll be examined again today by team physician Dr. Lewis Yocum.
Levine gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning on Sunday and has struggled lately in general, as his ERA is up to 4.03.
``He's definitely a big part of the totem pole in the bullpen,'' Scioscia said.
With Levine's status in question, Ben Weber likely will take over most of Levine's set-up duties.
Shawn Wooten, recovering from a strained muscle in his right side, started swinging a bat Monday but there is still no timetable for when he can engage in full baseball workouts.
Wooten injured his side while on rehab assignment after recovering from thumb surgery. He's expected to be out anywhere from two to five weeks.
Joe Saunders, the Angels' first-round draft pick from Virginia Tech, visited Edison Field and watched batting practice with his parents on Monday. Saunders will report to Rookie League Provo to begin his professional career.