By Joe Haakenson, AngelsWin.com Contributor -
JUNE 24, 2002
GAMES 73 AND 74
ANGELS AT RANGERS
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Angels lost on Monday, on the field, twice, and in the standings.
After they were swept in a doubleheader by the streaking Texas Rangers, 8-5 and 3-2, the Angels found themselves in third place in the American League West.
About the only team hotter than the Rangers, who won their sixth and seventh consecutive games, are the Oakland A's, who beat Seattle for their eighth in a row and moved past the Angels and into second place, two games behind first-place Seattle. The Angels are 2 1/2 games back.
The Angels figured to have a good chance to win both games at The Ballpark in Arlington, going up against Rangers starting pitchers who included a rookie (Joaquin Benoit) and a journeyman (Dave Burba).
Problem was, the Angels had a rookie (John Lackey) and a journeyman (Aaron Sele) of their own going, and the Rangers won both matchups. Benoit outpitched Sele in the first game and Burba outpitched Lackey in the nightcap.
Even though he lost, Lackey was impressive in making his major league debut. He allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings, striking out six and walking one. He had trouble with Alex Rodriguez, however, and it was enough to beat him.
Rodriguez, who scored four runs in the first game, homered, doubled and scored twice in the nightcap. The Angels got a two-homer game from Darin Erstad in the first-game loss.
In the second game, the Angels rallied from a 3-0 deficit to make it 3-2 and had the potential tying run on second base with one out in the ninth. But Rangers closer Hideki Irabu retired Orlando Palmeiro and David Eckstein to complete the sweep.
``I'm not even looking at the standings,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said when asked about falling into third place for the first time since May 8. ``Our focus is in-house, it's internal. Our club had a bad night tonight. Anytime you lose a twin bill, it's a bad night. But the guys will bounce back tomorrow.''
If there was any good news for the Angels, it was Lackey's performance. Lackey was sent back to Triple-A Salt Lake after the game to make room for reliever Matt Wise, but Lackey could be back soon.
``He's definitely pushing that door,'' Scioscia said. ``He showed he's ready to pitch in the big leagues.''
Lackey, who is from Abilene, Texas and spent one year at the University of Texas-Arlington, said he wasn't starstruck facing the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro.
``Once you get out there, you've still got to pitch no matter who's out there,'' said Lackey, 23. ``For the most part I felt pretty comfortable.''
And even though Alex Rodriguez got the best of him, Lackey said it was a good experience.
``It wasn't too pleasant the first time (when Rodriguez homered), I found out why he's a pretty good hitter,'' Lackey said. ``You want to measure yourself against guys like that and see how you stack up. It was a good learning experience.''
The first game started promisingly for the Angels against Benoit, who was making just his second career major league start. The Angels loaded the bases with nobody out in the first inning, but managed only one run.
In the second inning, Erstad hit the first of his two home runs in the game with Jorge Fabregas on base for a 3-0 Angels lead.
But the lead didn't last because Sele struggled to find the strike zone and found himself consistently behind in the count. Rangers second baseman Michael Young (Bishop Amat High) had a two-out, two-run single in the second inning and Rafael Palmeiro had a two-out, RBI single in the third to tie the game at 3.
``It's all about finishing the inning,'' Scioscia said. ``He struggled with that.''
The Rangers went ahead in the fifth inning, 5-3, on a sacrifice fly by Palmeiro and an RBI single by Herbert Perry. Sele didn't make it out of the fifth, finishing his night having given up five runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.
``I was behind (in the count) to over half the hitters,'' Sele said. `It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that's not how to pitch.''
Sele (6-5) has not been the type of pitcher the Angels were hoping to get when they signed him to a three-year, $24 million contract last December, and Sele is the first to admit it.
``When you pitch bad, you pitch bad, there's no two ways about it,'' said Sele, who has allowed opposing hitters to bat .324 against him this season. ``I don't think I've thrown the ball very well or consistently all year.''
Sele's ERA ballooned to 5.54, the worst among the club's starters.
``We haven't seen the best of Aaron Sele this year,'' Scioscia said. ``Hopefully it's yet to come. His stuff looks good, but the consistency hasn't been what I know it is. He's been battling. I know he'll get there.''
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Catcher Bengie Molina did not hit a home run Monday, so his home run total remains at 0. Molina is one of only two position players in the American League in an opening day lineup still without a homer this season. The other is Gabe Kapler of the Texas Rangers.
It's not that Molina doesn't have occasional power -- he hit 14 homers his rookie season in 2000. His total fell to six last year, but he missed 66 games because of injuries.
The closest he's come this season came Saturday when he hit one off the top of the center-field fence at Miller Park. Brewers center fielder Jeffrey Hammonds snared the ball and brought it back into the park and umpire Bill Hohn incorrectly ruled it a catch.
Molina would have liked that one to carry a foot further, but said he isn't worried about his home run total.
``I'm not a home run hitter,'' Molina said. ``I'm not trying to hit home runs. It's not my job. If the time comes and I hit a couple home runs, I'll be happy. But I'm not going to try to hit them. It's not my game.''
As a former major league catcher himself, manager Mike Scioscia knows that defense is a catcher's primary role with a club. And Molina leads all American League catchers having thrown out 50 percent (23 of 46) would-be basestealers.
``The offensive side of Bengie is secondary,'' Scioscia said. ``We're not concerned about home runs. He's a good clutch hitter and an excellent contact hitter. He has a good line-drive swing. If he happens to get under one and it goes out, it goes out. But it's not an issue.''
In order to make room on the major league roster for Game 2 starter John Lackey, the Angels optioned reliever Brendan Donnelly to Triple-A Salt Lake. Donnelly pitched in Game 1 of the doubleheader, giving up one run in 2 1/3 innings.
After the second game, the Angels sent Lackey back to Salt Lake and called up pitcher Matt Wise, who will join the team in Texas today.
Third baseman Troy Glaus was in the starting lineup Monday after coming out of Sunday's game because of nerve irritation in his right foot between the third and fourth toes. Glaus received a cortisone injection and also wore a pair teammate Brad Fullmer's spikes.
``He changed his shoes to a little softer shoe to take the pressure off,'' Scioscia said.
Glaus, Darin Erstad, Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Orlando Palmeiro and Adam Kennedy started both games of the doubleheader. Anderson started at DH in the first game and Erstad in the second.