Angels Target a Consolation Prize

In the most important game of their 1995 season, the Angels started Shawn (Mr. 7.57 ERA in September) Boskie against Andy Benes.

And finished with Rich Monteleone, Mike James, Bob Patterson, John Habyan and their new $2 million mop-up man, Lee Smith.

In the game the Angels had to win to retain any reasonable hope of pulling the American League West title out of the dumpster, Boskie plunked Joey Cora in the back with a two-out, none-on pitch--with Ken Griffey Jr. on deck--to gift-wrap a three-run third inning for Seattle.

And then Griffey doubled and eventually scored when Angel catcher Greg Myers failed to hold a relay throw from right fielder Tim Salmon.

And then Griffey homered in the fourth inning.

And then Jay Buhner did the same in the fifth inning.

And then Tino Martinez brought in three more runs in the sixth inning when his ground ball split the seam between Angel first baseman J.T. Snow--playing, for some reason, off the line with two outs, the bases loaded and a left-handed hitter at bat--and the right-field foul stripe.

And Myers was tagged out at home, breaking from third on a no-out grounder to first . . . and the Angels put their leadoff hitter on base in six consecutive innings, only to score once . . . and the Mariners scored seven runs with two outs . . . and Angels lost the first of a two-game must-sweep set in Seattle by a wave-the-white-flag final score of 10-2.

And now?

"Reality for us," Angel pitcher Chuck Finley said late Tuesday afternoon, "is that that we may be better off concentrating on winning the wild card."

Not first place, which the Angels owned for 123 of the season's first 151 days.

Not the AL West championship, which, with an 11-game lead on Aug. 9, seemed as much a certainty as Marcel Lachemann's American League manager of the year plaque.

The wild card.

Last resort.

Last ditch.

Last one round, please vacate the premises and clear out some room for the real World Series contenders.

"The way these guys are playing," Finley said of the Mariners, "everybody on this team is looking at each other and saying, 'Man, they are rolling. ' Things aren't going so well for us. Our main focus now has to be getting into the playoffs, somehow.

"There's no real advantage in the playoffs if you win the division. It's still two [games at home] and three [on the road]. Just as long as you get in there. That's what we need to realize.

"If we can get the wild card, this won't be a total catastrophe. Sure, we'd like to win the division outright, but to be so many games up and then miss out on the playoffs altogether, that would be devastating."

So that's the update from Team Diminished Expectations, previously known as the Angel Pennant Express. And that's the viewpoint of today's starting Angel pitcher. So prepare yourselves, Angel fans, as you bravely sidle up next to the radio for this afternoon's pressure-packed ballgame.

Finley's pitching for the Angels . . . and he's going for the wild card!

Not that Tuesday's Angel starter was faulting Finley's logic. Boskie had just taken a spin through the Mariner batting order. He'd spun out after 2 2/3 innings. He'd pitched to Griffey and the two Martinezes and Buhner and Mike Blowers, a No. 7 with 93 RBIs, one after another after another.

Wild card?

Sounds good to Boskie.

"Oh, yeah. Definitely," Boskie said, nodding in front of his locker stall. "I'm sure everyone on this team will be keeping track of the Yankee game tonight, hoping Milwaukee beats them. Right now, our team is looking for any little positive to build on."

Besides, the better team is winning the West.

That piece of truth has been obscured by all the "Angels Free Fall/Fade/Fold/Disintegrate/Vanish Before Our Very Eyes" essays and bedsheet banners like the other hanging in the Kingdome Tuesday: "CA Stands For Choke Artists."

No question, the Angels blew their lead on their own. They blew it against the likes of Oakland and Kansas City and Chicago and Texas. Tuesday was the Angels' first confrontation with the Mariners since Aug. 3, when the Angels still led the West by 11 games and Seattle Manager Lou Piniella was all but conceding them the West title.

The Angels allowed the Mariners back into the race, but now that they're here, playing on the same plastic grass, it's clear that Seattle has the Angels outmanned on the mound and up and down the batting order.

Probably no more than two Angels could break into the Mariners' starting lineup--shortstop Gary DiSarcina and Salmon, provided Salmon moved from right field to left. (Seattle's right fielder, Buhner, has 38 home runs and 118 RBIs to Salmon's 34 and 100.)

First base? Snow or Tino Martinez, with his 31 homers and 105 RBIs? Third base? Tony Phillips or Blowers, who has 22 home runs and is closing in on 100 RBIs? Center field? Jim Edmonds, an All-Star, or Griffey, the All-Star? Designated hitter? Chili Davis or Edgar Martinez, the leading hitter in the American League?

Pitching matchups bring us to Mark Langston or Randy Johnson, Finley or Benes, Boskie or . . . well, what's the point in pouring it on?

"They've got as potent an offense as Toronto had last year," Finley said, awe creeping into his voice. "Griffey, Buhner, Martinez, Blowers--they're feeding off each other. And with Randy Johnson and now Benes over there, it's hard to see them having a losing streak that lasts very long."

As for the Angels, all that's left to be said can be said in four words:

Wild Card Or Bust.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Playoff Watch

AL WEST *--*

W L Pct. GB Seattle 76 63 .547 -- Angels 73 66 .525 3

*--*

AL WILD CARD *--*

W L Pct. GB New York 75 65 .536 -- Angels 73 66 .525 1 1/2

*--*

REMAINING GAMES

Angels--today at Seattle, Thursday through Sunday vs. Oakland.

Seattle--today vs. Angels, Thursday through Sunday at Texas.

New York--today at Milwaukee, Friday through Sunday at Toronto.

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