By Joe Haakenson, AngelsWin.com Contributor -
SEPT. 20, 2002
GAME 154 - ANGELS AT MARINERS
SEATTLE – After his team got off to the worst start in franchise history, Angels manager Mike Scioscia sat in the office in the visiting clubhouse at Safeco Field in April answering questions about his job security.
But nearly five months later, that very same office might soon host a celebration 16 years in the making.
The Angels beat the Seattle Mariners, 8-1, Friday night before a relatively quiet sellout crowd of 45,663 at Safeco Field, clinching at least a tie for the American League wild-card spot.
One more Angels win or Mariners loss will put the Angels in the playoffs for the first time since 1986, when Scioscia was a catcher with the Dodgers and right fielder Tim Salmon was a senior at Greenway High in Phoenix, Ariz.
The Oakland A's also won Friday, remaining one game ahead of the Angels in the A.L. West.
No current Angel player has waited longer for a playoff appearance than Salmon, who won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1993. Friday, he led the Angels' 10-hit attack with a home run, double, walk, two RBIs and three runs scored as the Mariners were pushed to the brink of elimination.
The only way the Mariners can go to the playoffs this year is to win all eight of their remaining games and hope the Angels lose all eight of their remaining games. If that happens, a one-game playoff would be played in Seattle on Sept. 30.
The Boston Red Sox also are mathematically alive, but would have to win all nine of their remaining games to have a chance.
``It's kind of like waiting for Christmas,'' Salmon said. ``But yeah, there's anxiety. There's anxiety every night because we're playing so many close games. My sleep patterns are pretty messed up. Every waking moment you're thinking about it.
``There's nobody in this room more anxious than me because I've been waiting so long.''
Salmon got the Angels started Friday, hitting a 446-foot home run in the first inning to give the Angels a 1-0 lead. The Mariners tied the game in the bottom of the first against Angels starter Ramon Ortiz (15-9) when Ichiro Suzuki tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Mike Cameron.
Ortiz, though, settled down and went seven innings, allowing only the one run and five hits. Ortiz has become the Angels' hottest pitcher, going 5-0 in his last five starts and going 6-0 in his past eight starts.
Meanwhile, the Angels offense took care of business against Mariners starter Joel Pineiro (14-7). Garret Anderson and Brad Fullmer each hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to put the Angels up, 5-1. In the fifth, Salmon doubled home a run and then scored on a single by Anderson.
The Angels scored their eighth and final run of the game in the seventh when Darin Erstad singled and eventually scored on an error by shortstop Desi Relaford.
Even though the Angels are so close they refuse to get too excited, particularly those who were with the team in 1995, when they blew an 11-game lead in August.
``Remember, I was here for that 11-game deficit,'' Angels closer Troy Percival said. ``There's no sense of relief until it's done. You've got to find someone who wasn't here in '95 to get some exuberance. That year is in my mind enough to not let me get too excited for being close.''
But the Angels seem close enough to make plans for a celebration. After Friday's game, Scioscia pulled aside equipment manager Ken Higdon. Was it to order champagne?
``It's important in this game to celebrate achievement,'' Scioscia said. ``There's so much energy and effort that goes into this game, it is important. We have high goals set for this club, and the first step is getting to the playoffs. We're looking forward to that, but in no way is our season close to being over.''
SEATTLE -- In 2000, the Seattle Mariners celebrated clinching the American League wild-card berth with a win over the Angels in Anaheim. Last season, the Mariners beat the Angels in Seattle to clinch the A.L. West title.
The Angels were forced to watch both times, but this season payback might be in order. With a couple of wins here this weekend, the Angels can do the celebrating by clinching the wild-card spot, which would ensure their first trip to the playoffs in 16 seasons.
Though the Mariners were the favorites to win the division coming into the season and won 116 games last season, the Angels don't see clinching here as vindication. Clinching in Tampa Bay would be just as sweet, they say.
``This isn't a personal thing against anybody there,'' center fielder Darin Erstad said. ``Getting to the playoffs is a goal we've had. I respect Seattle too much, it's not even a thought.''
Many Angels players have avoided questions about the playoffs, preferring to wait until they've clinched, knowing all too well the Angels' past September failures.
``We think about (the playoffs) when you guys (reporters) ask us,'' Erstad said. ``But once you get on the field, it's business as usual.''
The Angels have some options when it comes to their playoff roster, and there could be one significant surprise.
The Angels might include 20-year-old reliever Francisco Rodriguez among those on the 10-man pitching staff. Major League rules state that players eligible for the postseason roster must either be on the 25-man roster or on the disabled list on Aug. 31. Rodriguez wouldn't qualify, except that the rules also state that a player on the disabled list at the end of the season can be replaced by anybody that was in the organization on Aug. 31.
The Angels would use the spot of pitcher Steve Green, who has been out all season following elbow surgery.
The other candidates for the 10th spot on the staff are Al Levine, Dennis Cook and Mickey Callaway. The Angels were concerned about how Rodriguez would respond to the pressure of a major league playoff situation, but he eased those concerns in his two appearances in Oakland earlier in the week.
Rodriguez pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one single and striking out five in close games with the A's.
``You can never have too much depth in the bullpen,'' manager Mike Scioscia said. ``The two innings he's thrown he showed he's not scared.''
Aaron Sele threw about 30 pitches in a simulated game Friday as he continues to rehabilitate the partially torn muscle in his right shoulder. However, Sele almost certainly will not be on the playoff roster.
Sele does not have enough time to build up the stamina and arm strength to start, and Scioscia said the club would prefer not to use him out of the bullpen because he's not used to that role. Additionally, the Angels don't want to risk further damage to his shoulder because Sele is due to make $16.5 million over the next two seasons.
The Angels completed their July 31 trade with the Milwaukee Brewers by announcing the player to be named later. The Angels sent pitcher Pedro Liriano to the Brewers to complete the deal in which they acquired outfielder Alex Ochoa and catcher Sal Fasano. In addition to Liriano, the Angels sent backup major league catcher Jorge Fabregas and minor league infielder Johnny Raburn to the Brewers.
Liriano was 10-14 with a 3.60 ERA this season at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.