Great hitting, solid defense, consistent pitching . . . all have played huge roles in the Angels’ push for their first American League West title since 1986.
But Manager Marcel Lachemann added a new one to the list of Angel superlatives: divine intervention.
“He wanted to win as much as anyone,” Lachemann said of the late Jimmie Reese, the former Angel conditioning coach whose jersey number was retired in a pregame ceremony Wednesday night.
“Someone said he’s probably up there pulling strings right now, and that’s why we’re doing so well. It’s highly possible.”
After a 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners before a paid crowd of 23,253 in Anaheim Stadium, a victory Lee Smith nailed down by getting Edgar Martinez, the American League’s top hitter, to fly to center with a runner on second for his 25th save, you began to wonder whether Lachemann was joking.
The Angels’ eighth consecutive victory and 17th victory in 20 games included some strange phenomena:
--The Angels (56-33) scored their first run in the second inning when Seattle pitcher Tim Belcher threw to the Invisible Man at third base.
After fielding Damion Easley’s bunt with Garret Anderson on second, Belcher spun and threw to third, but no one was there. The ball went into the photographers’ well next to the Angel dugout, allowing Anderson to score.
--Angel starting pitcher Mike Harkey helped snuff out a third-inning uprising when, with runners on first and third, he faked a move toward third and threw to first--you know, that pickoff play that never works.
This time it worked. Alex Rodriguez was caught leaning off first and was out in a rundown, and the Mariners managed only one run after putting runners on first and third with none out.
“It looked like Mike pulled one out of his bag of tricks,” Easley said.
So did Smith, who, after giving up a single and stolen base to Joey Cora in the ninth, had to face Martinez, who entered the game with a .361 average, 11 homers and 68 runs batted in and had demolished the Angels during a four-game series in June.
“There were a lot of better places I would have liked to have been at that moment,” Smith said. “I threw him every pitch I had and a couple from some other guys. I made a decent pitch on the last one [on a 2-2 count] and he still drove it pretty good.”
The Angels had a 5-2 lead after five on the strength of J.T. Snow’s third-inning RBI groundout, RBI singles by Tony Phillips and Tim Salmon in the fourth and Anderson’s 10th home run of the season, a 418-foot, bases-empty blast in to right in the fifth.
Harkey, making his third Angel start since being picked up off waivers from Oakland on July 19, pitched six solid innings, giving up three runs--two earned--and seven hits and striking out four. He came out after giving up singles to Mike Blowers and Dan Wilson to open the seventh.
Mike James retired Rodriguez on a foul pop to catcher Jorge Fabregas, who made a leaping grab at the screen, and Cora lined to left for the second out. Bob Patterson gave up Luis Sojo’s RBI single, which made it 5-3, but Troy Percival retired Martinez on a liner to center.
Jay Buhner homered off Percival in the eighth, pulling Seattle to within 5-4 and marking the first time in 14 outings--and 16 1/3 innings--that the right-handed reliever had given up a run.
Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina’s consecutive-game errorless streak ended at 54 when he had trouble getting the ball out of his glove after fielding Blowers’ third-inning grounder up the middle and threw late to first.
Blowers eventually scored to make it 1-1 after Wilson’s double and Rodriguez’s RBI single, but DiSarcina made up for the miscue by making a diving stop of Rich Amaral’s grounder and throwing him out with a runner on third.
“It’s nice to blow people out all the time, but that’s not reality,” Anderson said. “We need to play games like this to remember how they feel.”