By Joe Haakenson, AngelsWin.com Contributor -
SEPT. 25, 2002
GAME 158 - ANGELS AT RANGERS
ARLINGTON, Texas – Angels manager Mike Scioscia instructed the visitors' clubhouse attendants at The Ballpark in Arlington to remove the rolled up plastic sheets hanging over the Angels cubicles.
The Angels players, it seems, had enough hanging over their heads.
The plastic, used to keep things dry during a celebration, teased the Angels, first in Seattle and now in Texas. Heading into Wednesday night's game against the Rangers, the Angels lost their previous three games with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
But with the plastic gone and their heads cleared of such a distraction, they lost anyway, 4-3, before 20,976 fans.
It was their fourth loss in a row and sixth in seven games. They have not lost as many as four in a row since a four-game losing streak June 15-19.
The Boston Red Sox lost earlier in the evening, being eliminated from playoff contention. Next up was the Mariners, who would be out with a loss against the A's and were still playing as the Angels dressed and began to go back to their hotel. None of the Angels said they would watch the game even if it was televised, which it wasn't.
Would they celebrate a Mariners loss? Not after a loss of their own, they said, even if it meant a playoff spot.
``To sit and watch a baseball game is not going to help anything,'' Angels closer Troy Percival said. ``You don't want to celebrate after you lose. That's not the way this team plays.''
Turns out he and his teammates didn't have to make that decision. The Mariners rallied for a 3-2 victory over the A's and left it up to the Angels to earn a playoff spot themselves.
Angels right fielder Tim Salmon, though, said it doesn't make much difference how they get in, as long as they get in.
``We worked hard all year to put ourselves in this position,'' he said. ``Right now we have the luxury of having a few lifelines. If we get in because somebody else loses, that wouldn't be the the way I would have scripted it, but by the same token, anyway you can get there ...
``That would be fitting for me, my career. You don't imagine it happening that way.''
Angels left fielder Garret Anderson agreed, saying if the Angels got in with a Mariners loss, it wouldn't detract from their season.
``To say we got in through the back door discredits what we've done all season,'' he said.
Wednesday's loss was a case of the Angels failing to do much offensively. Rangers starter Kenny Rogers had a lot to do with it, limiting the Angels to two runs and six hits in seven innings.
Hank Blalock and Alex Rodriguez homered back-to-back in the third inning off Angels starter Ramon Ortiz to put the Rangers up, 2-0. Meanwhile, the Angels offense had only one hit -- a single by Benji Gil -- thorugh four innings.
In the fifth, the Angels got three hits, including an RBI double by Gil. But David Eckstein flied to right with runners on second and third to end the inning.
The top of the Angels order -- Eckstein, Darin Erstad and Salmon -- are a combined 0 for 23 in the past two games against the Rangers.
Troy Glaus homered to lead off the seventh, tying the game at 2, but the Angels bullpen gave up two runs in the bottom of the eighth. Rafael Palmeiro homered off Scott Schoeneweis, and Michael Young walked with the bases loaded against Francisco Rodriguez to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead.
The Angels scored in the ninth on Brad Fullmer's RBI single, but Eckstein struck out to end it.
``We're scuffling a little bit but we'll keep it in perspective,'' Scioscia said. ``This club still has a four-game lead. Our record (96-62) shows we're a good club.''
ARLINGTON, Texas -- No Angels players or coaches were with the team in 1986, the last Angels team that made the playoffs and the team that came so close to reaching the World Series.
Over in the Rangers dugout, though, there is someone who remembers that season well. Rangers manager Jerry Narron was with the Angels as a backup catcher to starter Bob Boone on the '86 team, but says there are no similarities between the two situations, with this year's Angels struggling near the end of the season.
``Not even close,'' Narron said before Wednesday's game. ``They've had a great year and they're going to win at some point in the next five days to clinch at least a wild-card spot. If they get some breaks in the postseason they could do real well.''
Then again, Narron knows the feeling of being so close to something and not quite getting there.
``I've seen the plastic go up before,'' he said of the plastic sheets used in the clubhouse to protect the open-faced cubicles with the players' clothes. ``But Seattle will lose a game over the next five days and the Angels will win a game. If they don't, they don't deserve to be in it. But they've got too good a team to not win one.''
Narron pointed out that the Rangers helped the Angels last week, sweeping four games from the Mariners. As for those '86 Angels, Narron said the shock of Dave Henderson's home run in the ninth inning of Game 5 was too much to overcome.
``The toughest part was knowing it could have been over Sunday (Game 5),'' Narron said. ``Boston played the next two games where they were just happy to be alive.
``These guys (2002 Angels) will be fine. The A.L. West is by far the toughest division in baseball. The Minnesota Twins would be in fourth place in this division.''
Narron has the distinction of scoring the winning run for the Angels in their last playoff victory: In Game 4 of the '86 series against the Red Sox, Narron singled in the 10th off Calvin Schiraldi and later scored for a 4-3 win.
The Rangers held a news conference Wednesday featuring Ernie Banks, an MVP with the last-place Cubs in 1958 and '59, and Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, an MVP candidate with the last place Rangers.
However, Banks was quick to point out that he was not here to endorse Rodriguez for the MVP, that he was in town on business and to visit his 90-year-old mother who lives in the Dallas area. Still, Banks called Rodriguez ``the greatest shortstop in the history of the game.''
When asked who he'd pick for the MVP, he said: ``I'm not here to promote him, but to play that position (shortstop) and play with that power is really exceptional. It's the position I look at more than anything else.''
Oakland's Miguel Tejada, another MVP candidate, also plays shortstop.
Rodriguez, who said he was flattered by Banks' compliments, was asked his definition of the MVP.
``The MVP to me is what your teammates think about you,'' he said. ``Going through the daily grind and being there for your teammates every day. Achieving some special things. I look at the MVP like the Oscars. You want to be nominated every year even though you won't win it every year. If you win it would mean everything, but if you lose it'll be nothing.''