By Joe Haakenson, AngelsWin.com Contributor -
SEPT. 22, 2002
GAME 156 - ANGELS AT MARINERS
SEATTLE – The first 96 wins seemed to come so effortlessly. No. 97 has been a chore.
Needing to win only one of the two games Saturday and Sunday against the Seattle Mariners to clinch their first playoff appearance in 16 seasons, the Angels lost both, including Sunday's 3-2 setback before a sellout crowd of 45,693 at Safeco Field.
The Angels still have the opportunity to control their own destiny, going to Texas for a three-game series vs. the Rangers starting Tuesday. And if they can't get that one win, there's always the back door.
The Mariners will play the red-hot A's, and would be eliminated with one loss in the three-game series.
``We're not going to count on that,'' said Angels pitcher Jarrod Washburn (18-6), who gave up three runs in 6 1/3 innings Sunday to get the loss. ``We'll take care of our own business.''
``I think we'd feel better about ourselves if we win it ourselves,'' Angels first baseman Scott Spiezio said.
The Angels would have preferred to do it in Seattle, but instead have allowed both the Mariners and Boston Red Sox to remain alive in the wild-card race. Seattle trails the Angels by six games, the Red Sox by 6 1/2. Like the Mariners, the Red Sox have to win all of their remaining games and hope the Angels lose all of theirs.
The Angels' chances of winning the American League West have dropped dramatically, falling three games behind the A's, who beat Texas on Sunday. And because Oakland holds the edge in the tie-breaker, even if the Angels go 6-0 the rest of the way, Oakland would only need to win three of their six to clinch the division title.
The Angels' lost Sunday because they couldn't hit Mariners starter Ryan Franklin (7-4), who gave up two runs in 7 1/3 innings. The Angels had seven hits, including three from designated hitter Brad Fullmer.
They were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, and some Angels admitted the idea of getting that one clinching win might have caused them to tighten up.
``I'd say if we were anxious the last couple days, it'll go away now,'' second baseman Adam Kennedy said. ``Maybe we were a little anxious to get a win and get it out of the way.''
Spiezio, who drove in one of the Angels' two runs with an RBI single in the eighth inning, said he could sense the same thing.
``I know we'd all like to get it over with and win one game,'' he said. ``But I don't think anyone is trying to win the game with one swing. Nobody's going to give us wins. We just need to maintain the way we've played. I don't think anyone's stressing.
``We want this win really bad, to get to the playoffs. We do want it more than some other wins, that's human nature. But I don't think we're trying to do anything extra.''
Washburn and the bullpen pitched well, if not good enough to win. Washburn, though, had trouble with rookie Willie Bloomquist, who played second base in place of the injured Bret Boone (bruised right heel).
Bloomquist got his first career major league hit in the first inning, but he didn't stop there. He got his second, third and fourth major league hits as well, including and RBI single in the seventh the proved to be the difference.
``He's an unknown guy,'' Washburn said. ``I didn't know anything about him, so I talked to a few guys who have seen him play before in the minors, but it didn't work out. The first time he hit a fastball up and in, the second time he hit a fastball down and away, the third time he hit a slider and the fourth time he hit a changeup. He hit it all.
``We're very disappointed in our performance the last two days. It's not like we didn't know it takes one more win. We have an off day (today) to clear our minds.''
The decisive run of the game scored on Bloomquist's RBI single in seventh when he hit the ball off the end of the bat to the right side of the infield. Homeplate was in the shadows and the infield was in bright sunlight, making it difficult for infielders to pick up the ball off the bat.
``With those shadows I thought the ball went to shortstop,'' Spiezio said. ``I reacted toward first base and then tried to get back over there. It's like pitch black and then as bright as you can get.''
SEATTLE -- Seven games into the road trip, the Angels have five losses, and all signs point to the offense. The Angels have averaged 3.6 runs per game on the trip, with several players slumping.
Troy Glaus is 4 for 24; Adam Kennedy is 3 for 21; Bengie Molina is 2 for 17; Garret Anderson is 5 for 24; David Eckstein is 6 for 29; and Scott Spiezio is 6 for 26.
Granted, the Angels have faced good pitching, including Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson of the A's and Freddy Garcia and Joel Pineiro of the Mariners.
``We've seen in this stretch some of the best pitchers in our league,'' manager Mike Scioscia said. ``They're going about it with a good gameplan. We did a good job against Zito and Garcia. I think our offense will going to be there, we just don't have as many wins as we'd like.''
Tim Salmon (9 for 25), Darin Erstad (9 for 29) and Brad Fullmer (6 for 18) have been a little better, but it hasn't been enough.
``It hasn't happened for us the last couple days,'' Kennedy said. ``A few hits here and there and we score four or five runs (Sunday).''
It might take a miracle for the Mariners to avoid elimination from playoff contention, but they could feel some satisfaction knowing the Angels will not celebrate on their field.
Seattle's victories Saturday and Sunday kept them mathematically alive in the wild-card race, six games out with six to play. But the Angels were forced to go to Texas without having secured their first playoff berth in 16 seasons.
``We don't have that much of a hope, but that last candle on our mantel hasn't been blown out yet,'' Mariners reliever Jeff Nelson said.
The Mariners won the season-series with the Angels, taking nine of 16 games.
Said Mariners manager Lou Piniella: ``We've got six games to finish up our season. Like I said a week ago, let's finish up as strong as we can and let it go at that.''
Shigetoshi Hasegawa spent five seasons with the Angels before the club decided against offering him arbitration last winter, essentially letting him go. And now, the Angels are on the verge of reaching the playoffs without him.
``It doesn't matter,'' said Hasegawa, who is 7-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 50 games with the Mariners this season. ``I just do what I can control. That's fine.''
Hasegawa said he holds no bitter feelings towards the Angels. And in fact, the Newport Beach resident might attend a playoff game in Anaheim.
``I like to see them doing good,'' he said. ``(If the Angels clinch a playoff spot), probably everybody will joke with me, `You want to go over there (to the Angels clubhouse)?' ''
Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki had two hits Sunday, raising his season total to 200. In doing so, he became the seventh player in major league history to have 200 or more hits in each of his first two big league seasons.
The others are Joe Jackson (1911-12), Lloyd Waner (1927-28), Johnny Frederick (1929-30), Joe DiMaggio (1936-37), Johnny Pesky (1942-43) and Harvey Kuenn (1953-54). Waner and Pesky are the only players to do it in their first three seasons.