Angel Concern Grows as Lead Shrinks to Two

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Angel fans will never be able to erase the bitter memories of 1986, when the team was one strike away from advancing to its first World Series, only to have the Boston Red Sox steal a gut-wrenching Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and go on to win the pennant.

But the way things are going for these 1995 Angels, they might push Donnie Moore-to-Dave Henderson down to No. 2 on the list of Biggest Disappointments in Angel History. Or at least 1A.

What was once an 11-game lead in the American League West dwindled to two games Monday night after the Angels lost to the Oakland Athletics, 4-0, before a paid 9,597 in the Oakland Coliseum.

The second-place Seattle Mariners continued their late-season surge with an 8-1 victory over the Texas Rangers, and the Angels, who have lost five in a row and 23 of their last 31, continued to resemble a rock climber clinging to the side of a cliff with only a few fingernails in a crevice.

And if you thought there was a wild-card cushion if the Angels lose the division, forget it. Flip-flop the Mariners and Angels, and the Angels would be only three games ahead of the New York Yankees in the wild-card standings.

"Sure I'm concerned, you'd have to be somewhat of an idiot not to be concerned," Manager Marcel Lachemann said of the Incredible Shrinking Lead. "We're not scoring runs, and when we have, we haven't pitched well. Things are not meshing well."

Monday night the Angels were shut out by a rookie, a 27-year-old left-hander named Doug Johns, who spent most of this season at triple-A Edmonton. But Johns looked like an all-star against the Angels, limiting them to two hits--both singles--and striking out two.

It was the first complete game and shutout of Johns' career and marked the second time in a week the Angels were shut down by a rookie, following Luis Andujar's dominance of the Angels in Chicago's 6-1 victory last Wednesday.

Johns faced only 29 batters, two over the minimum, and needed only 97 pitches to dispose of the Angels and improve to 5-1. He retired the Angels in order six times.

Angel starter Chuck Finley, meanwhile, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning . . . and was still trailing by a run.

The left-hander, considered the ace of the Angel staff, was eventually knocked out in the seventh after giving up a solo home run to No. 9 hitter Craig Paquette and a double to Geronimo Berroa. Finley, who walked two and gave up an RBI groundout in the second, hasn't won since Aug. 24.

In addition, the Angels made two glaring mistakes on the basepaths: Jim Edmonds was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the first, and Tim Salmon was picked off first while trying to steal on a full-count pitch to Chili Davis in the seventh.

"I don't know if everyone is too wrapped up in this or what, but we need one or two games where we do the things that got us the big lead," Finley said. "We need to get some momentum going, some confidence."

Time is running out, though. There are only 11 games left, including two against Seattle, three against third-place Texas and six more against Oakland, which has a 239-160 career record against the Angels.

"We just have to keep telling ourselves we're still in first place, and we have to play like it," first baseman J.T. Snow said. "I don't think we're playing tentative, playing not to lose. Things just aren't clicking."

Oakland didn't get its first hit Monday night until Brent Gates led off the sixth with a single to left. Mark McGwire walked, and Danny Tartabull popped out.

Terry Steinbach, who entered with a career .392 average against Finley, lined a single to left to load the bases, and Stan Javier followed with a two-run single to left, giving Oakland a commanding--at least on this night--3-0 lead.

"I'm tired of banging my head against the wall," third baseman Tony Phillips said. "I'm just going to go out the last 11 games and have fun, stop stressing, and play the game. If it doesn't work out, that's all you can do."

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Tragic Numbers

A look at how the Angels' lead in the AL West has evaporated in little more than a month. Standings on Aug. 10

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Team W L Pct. GB Angels 60 36 .625 -- Seattle 49 47 .510 11 Texas 49 47 .510 11

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Standings Today

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Team W L Pct. GB Angels 72 61 .541 -- Seattle 70 63 .526 2 Texas 68 65 .511 4

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