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Angels Hang On to Win Fifth in Row

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A tight game against a weaker, but game, opponent. An ineffective starter. A tired bullpen. An error here. A wild pitch there. A couple of infield singles.

The Angels could have, and might have as recently as last week, let this game against the Toronto Blue Jays slip away.

That it didn’t happen, that the Angels rallied for a 6-4 victory over Toronto Thursday before 20,528 at Anaheim Stadium could be a sign they have turned around their fortunes.

Then again, they’ve been a tough club to peg this season. They win four in a row, then lose six straight. Just when you think you have them figured out, they haul off and win five in a row--all by rallying.

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Thursday’s victory also brought the Angels back to the .500 mark for the first time since June 2. They still trail the first-place Texas Rangers by 7 1/2 games in the American League West, but suddenly there is a sense that better days are ahead.

“We’ve been scrapping for all five of them,” Manager Marcel Lachemann said of the winning streak. “None have been very easy. A lot of people contributed [Thursday]. That’s what it’s going to take.”

Starter Chuck Finley rebounded from a hot smash off his elbow in the first inning and persevered for six innings to improve to 8-4.

Reliever Rich Monteleone, acquired Wednesday in a trade with the New York Yankees, began his third stint with the Angels by pitching two scoreless innings.

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Mike James, thrust into the closer’s role because Troy Percival had pitched four consecutive days, picked up his first save by shutting out the Blue Jays in the ninth.

Damion Easley, Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon hit home runs off Toronto starter Juan Guzman. And the Angels scored the winning run on shortstop Alex Gonzalez’s fielding error with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Finley and Guzman (4-5) put on the anticipated pitching duel, but not quite in the manner you might have expected.

Both waged a losing battle to master some semblance of consistency. Both were given leads. Both lost them.

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Toronto had a 2-0 lead and lost it.

The Angels had a 3-2 lead and lost it.

Toronto led, 4-3.

The Angels led, 5-4, and managed to hold it over the final three innings.

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In the end, Finley fared marginally better than Guzman, giving up four runs on six hits with six strikeouts and one walk to snap a two-game losing streak.

Joe Carter’s hard-hit grounder in the first inning slammed off the inside of Finley’s left elbow, then flew to first baseman Jack Howell, who stepped on the bag for the out.

Finley’s elbow immediately went numb and when he squeezed his fist in an attempt to get the feeling back, nothing happened for perhaps 20 seconds.

“It was a little scary when Chuck got hit,” Lachemann said. “When we got out there [to check on him], you could see the seams on the ball imprinted on his arm. You could see [AL President] Gene Budig’s signature.”

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Said Finley: “When it hits that bone, there’s nothing there to protect it. It’s just a big bone bruise.”

Dr. Lewis Yocum took a look at Finley’s elbow and decided there was no serious damage. He is expected to examine Finley again today.

Carter’s smash seemed just the right wake-up call for Finley, who began the game by giving up a home run to Jacob Brumfield and a run-scoring single to Juan Samuel.

“I was wild in the strike zone and my arm speed on the forkball wasn’t what it should have been,” Finley said. "[Catcher Don Slaught] said it was rolling in there instead of snapping.

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“Then, it just started flowing after the second.”

Down, 2-0, the Angels received a jolt of power from an unexpected source. Then again, considering Easley’s past success against Guzman maybe his two-run homer shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Easley, hitting .167 going into the game, has been a tough out for Guzman, which is why he was in the lineup at second base in the first place.

His homer raised his career average to .500 (7 for 14) with two homers against Guzman. Randy Velarde did not start because he is only a .200 hitter in his career against Guzman.

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“He seems to overmatch most guys,” said Easley, who was unaware of his exact numbers against Guzman. “I don’t know why [his success] happens.”


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