By Joe Haakenson, AngelsWin.com Contributor -
SEPT. 19, 2002
GAME 153 - ANGELS AT A’S
OAKLAND – The circumstances surrounding Thursday afternoon's game between the Angels and Oakland A's might have indicated it had some added significance. First place in the American League West was on the line and the teams won't meet again in the regular season.
There also was the issue of the tiebreaker. If the teams finish the regular season in a tie, the division winner is determined by their records head-to-head.
But after falling, 5-3, to the A's before 27,435 at Network Associates Coliseum, the Angels (95-58) shrugged it off as just another game. Just another loss. It was the first time the Angels have lost consecutive games since Aug. 22 and 23 vs. the Yankees and Red Sox.
``I hear guys talking around here,'' Angels right fielder Tim Salmon said. ``It doesn't change anything. Our attitude stays the same.''
Angels manager Mike Scioscia says it's that attitude that has gotten them this far, so why change now?
``We're having a terrific September and we need to continue to stay on that road and do what we need to do,'' he said. ``I don't think it serves any purpose to say this is a huge game and we needed to win it.''
But the fact the A's (96-57) won Thursday's game not only gave them a one-game lead in the West, it also gave them the season-series edge, 11 games to nine. If the two teams are tied at the end of the season, the A's will be declared the division winner.
``I don't think about things like that,'' Salmon said. ``I'm just not into that. I have to think about getting five at-bats (tonight) in Seattle.''
The A's were a little more excited about the win, and with good reason. Starting pitcher Tim Hudson (15-9) gave up three runs in 7 1/3 innings to get the win. Terrence Long had the big hit, a tiebreaking, two-run homer off reliever Brendan Donnelly in the sixth inning. And A's closer Billy Koch pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 41st save.
``That was a playoff game,'' A's manager Art Howe said. ``And we had the right guy on the mound. We hung in there and made it happen.''
At least one Athletic admitted he knew the ramifications of Thursday's game.
``I don't think anybody in here reads the articles you clowns write as much as I do,'' Koch said. ``I was aware of it.''
The game ended a stretch in which the Angels and A's played eight games against each other in 11 days. The Angels won three of four in Anaheim and the A's took three of four in Oakland. The only way they could meet again this season would be in the A.L. Championship Series.
``That's a double-edged sword,'' Salmon said. ``I'm almost tired of playing them. Every game is so intense. But if it comes down to us playing again, that would be great.''
A more immediate concern for Scioscia and the Angels is their starting pitching. Kevin Appier (14-11) had his second consecutive sub-standard start, giving up four runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. Only Jarrod Washburn, who threw eight scoreless innings on Tuesday, lasted as many as six innings in the four-game series.
``Occassionally you hit bumps in the road,'' Scioscia said. ``The starters have been so good for so long with a couple of rough edges here and there. Right now we're in a little bit of a tough spot.''
Both Scioscia and Appier denied Appier is feeling tired.
``I just didn't have a good feel,'' Appier said. ``My mechanics were off and my breaking stuff was not cooperating.''
Even though Appier had to battle for every out, he left the game with one out in the bottom of the sixth and the game tied at 3. Donnelly got the second out before yielding Long's two-run homer that turned out to be the difference.
``I threw it down the middle, and that's not what I was trying to do,'' Donnelly said.
The Angels did not put a runner on base after the sixth inning.
OAKLAND -- The Angels have only nine games left in the regular season with a playoff spot and division title hanging in the balance. But manager Mike Scioscia wants his players to play like it's a spring training game.
Actually, Scioscia and his staff preach playing the same way all the time so that they don't need to pick up their intensity during a pennant race.
``As these games move forward to the end of the season, we understand the importance is magnified and the atmosphere and intensity picks up in the ballpark,'' Scioscia said. ``But the way we go about our business is the same. I think in terms of the fans and the media there's been a playoff intensity the last couple series. But I don't think our intensity level or focus is raised. It should be the same as it's been all year.
``We told them on day-one of spring training, you play the same way whether it's spring training, a pennant race or the World Series.''
The philosophy seems to be working, because the Angels are 14-4 in September despite Thursday's loss to the A's.
``This club has never backed down from a challenge,'' Scioscia said. ``This month is probably the most challenging schedule of any club in baseball, certainly any division in baseball. We're playing Oakland and Seattle and they're both having terrific years.''
Francisco Rodriguez, the Angels' hard-throwing, 20-year-old from Venezuela, made his major league debut in Wednesday night's game, pitching a scoreless eighth inning. Rodriguez, who throws a 95-mph fastball, slider and changeup, gave up a single to Eric Chavez before getting Jermaine Dye on a fly to right and striking out both John Mabry and Mark Ellis.
Thursday, Rodriguez pitched the eighth inning and struck out the side, getting Dye, David Justice and Ellis.
``His arm is outstanding,'' Scioscia said. ``For him to come in in these circumstances and execute his pitches is a good sign. A packed stadium, a tough club and he made terrific pitches.''
Rodriguez started the season at Double-A Arkansas before being promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake. At Salt Lake, he was 2-3 with a 2.57 ERA in 27 games.
``It's like a dream come true,'' Rodriguez said. ``This is my first year I've been healthy for a full season. I didn't expect to be called up to the big leagues. I'm 20 years old, I'm too young. But I'm here.''
Garret Anderson's second-ining double Thursday was his major league-leading 56th of the season. Only one other A.L. player has had as many since 1936 -- Carlos Delgado of Toronto had 57 in 2000.
It also was Anderson's 85th extra-base hit of the season, tying the club record set by Troy Glaus in 2000.