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They Feed Off Resilient Salmon

If the Angels are leaving a calling card for the New York Yankees, who would have believed that Tim Salmon would be helping deliver it?

Not Mark McGwire, who missed almost all of the 1993 season because of a heel injury similar to the torn ligament that Salmon suffered in his left foot in April and advised the then Angel right fielder to shut it down immediately.

Not Will Clark nor Marty Cordova, who both missed three months because of foot injuries and told Salmon not to be a hero, get off it at once.

Maybe not even Salmon, who continues to contribute with a ligament 80% torn, serving as a fife and drum symbol for the resiliency of a team that has used the disabled list 18 times but put another hurt on the vaunted Yankees on Tuesday night and now leads the American League West by 3 1/2 games over the Texas Rangers.

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Playing in pain? Leading by example?

Manager Terry Collins said Salmon has become a living cliche.

“I think a lot of guys are feeding off him,” Collins said. “Right now everybody is sore and tired, but they walk in, see him with his foot in ice or the whirlpool and feel a lot better.

“Everybody says, ‘if this guy can play on one leg, so can I.”’

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Against a team that was 48-9 at Yankee Stadium, the Angels came back from a 2-0 deficit against Andy Pettitte on Monday night and from a 4-1 deficit against Hideki Irabu on Tuesday night.

They defeated the Yankees, 7-6, with Troy Percival stretching out to work the final 1 2/3 innings in an illustration of how important Collins thinks it is to grab at every potential win on this pivotal and punishing 10-game trip to New York, Boston and Cleveland.

Weather Percival is available for today’s day-night doubleheader wasn’t the issue Tuesday night as he came in to strand the tying run at third in the eighth and walked the bases loaded in the ninth before getting Derek Jeter, who already had four hits, to tap a two-out grounder to the mound. It was a game that belonged in October and may, indeed, have been a playoff preview.

If so, said Salmon of the 2-0 start to the five-game series here, “we have the confidence to know we can win here and win against the Yankees.”

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The Angels, in fact, are the only team to hold a season advantage (5-3) against the Yankees (94-35), who have now lost three in a row for the first time since the first week of the season, when it was the Angels again who accounted for two of the three defeats.

Batting .417 over his last 26 games, Salmon went hitless in this one, but so much for the box score.

“Our No. 4 hitter battled his butt off [against Mike Stanton] to get a guy [from second] to third base [with a fly to right in the seventh inning],” Collins said of that key at-bat by Salmon. “That epitomized what we’re trying to do.”

By moving from second to third, Darin Erstad ultimately scored the go-ahead run in the Angels’ comeback.

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For Salmon, restricted to the designated hitter role since coming off the disabled list in May, his ongoing availability “is pretty much a miracle. I can honestly say that when I came off the DL no one expected me to play for more than a month. Some people said, ‘well, hopefully you’ll still be here in September,’ but I don’t think anybody really believed it. I have a lot to be thankful for.”

So do the Angels, of course. Salmon is batting .295 with 23 homers and 69 runs batted in. His power numbers won’t reach normal levels, but he leads the Angels in homers and RBI, and no one is complaining because that ligament could have blown--and still could--at any time. The initial 20% tear was found to be 80% at the all-star break, when Salmon decided that since caution wasn’t stopping the deterioration, he would go full throttle--or as full as the injury will allow.

“I’m aware of it every step I take, but I’ve learned to accept it and deal with it,” he said. “It doesn’t really affect my swing. The hardest thing was adjusting my mind-set to the DH role, being out of the flow of the game, learning not to dwell on at-bats with all that time on the bench.”

Salmon goes through a heat and ice process before and after batting practice, has the foot wrapped for the game, then ices after it. If rest doesn’t heal the tear naturally during the off-season, he may face surgery, which could jeopardize the start of the 1999 season.

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Salmon, however, isn’t thinking about April. He is thinking about October, the ultimate miracle of being available for the playoffs, if the Angels get there.

“I’m dreaming about it, actually,” Salmon said. “In my mind it would be a great accomplishment, considering everything I’ve gone through.

“It’s the only reason I’m playing. If we had been out of it a month ago, I’d have shut it down right then.

“I don’t want to make this [injury] to sound bigger than it is, but it’s been a very different year for me and I know what I’ve accomplished.”

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The living cliche is taking it one day at a time, of course, as is his team, which continues to play aggressively, doing so many little things right.

“We know just how good the Yankees are,” said Collins. “We’re as much amazed by what they’ve done as everybody else is, but we can’t come in here and not do the things we need to do to win. I mean, just because we’ve won the first two doesn’t mean we’re done.”

It means the Angels are a step closer to October. A New York writer asked Collins who he would rather play in the first round of the playoffs--the Yankees or Red Sox?

“I just want to get there,” he said. “I mean, I’ll play the ’27 Yankees. These ['98 Yankees] may be better.”

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