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Olivares Off, Oakland On

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just three days before a much-needed and well-deserved rest, there was little left for the Angels to prove. They had overcome injuries and overtaken the Texas Rangers, grabbing the lead in the American League West Division.

Friday, though, was a reminder of the work left ahead, after a 10-6 loss to the Oakland A’s.

“It’s important to go into the break really strong,” designated hitter Tim Salmon said before the game. “You want to be playing good baseball, then get some rest and get ready for the second half.”

Sounded good. But, as 39,636 at Edison Field saw, it wasn’t put into practice.

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The Angels hardly resembled the team that surged in June, when the starting pitchers went deep into games, the bullpen was a rock--instead of getting rocked--and they seemed to be able to make up any deficit.

Starter Omar Olivares, who had strep throat earlier in the week, left in the fourth inning. The bullpen couldn’t keep the score close. The Angels kept flirting with another comeback victory, yet never quite got over the top.

“We’re playing teams in our own division again, so there is a chance to gain more ground on them,” Manager Terry Collins said.

At least the Angels didn’t lose ground. They remained 3 1/2 games in front of the Rangers, who lost to Seattle. A silver lining, considering the cloudburst that doused them in the first inning.

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Olivares, who has looked like an off-season bargain through the first half, didn’t seem worth a plugged nickel Friday. He had pitched into the seventh inning or further in his last nine starts, but was gone with two out in the fourth after giving up seven runs.

His condition certainly was a factor. Olivares received treatment throughout the week.

“He was not sharp,” Collins said. “He didn’t do his normal side work. I think that affected him. He was a little weak. He wasn’t hitting his spots.”

Olivares has been a savior in an Angel rotation that has lost three pitchers to injuries. His 2.95 earned-run average was fifth in the American League, a testament to his ability to wiggle out of trouble with his sinker.

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The only thing sinking in the first inning Friday was the fans’ opinion of the Angels. Few first-place teams get booed after one inning. Such was the case Friday, with right fielder Garret Anderson being singled out after he let Miguel Tejada’s single go under his glove for a three-base error, enabling two runs to score.

Olivares entered the game second in the American League in opponents’ batting average with runners in scoring position, giving up only 13 hits in 83 at bats. The A’s had four hits with runners in scoring position in the first. Matt Stairs had a two-run double and then scored on a double by Mike Blowers.

“I didn’t think about [the strep throat],” Olivares said. “I just didn’t have it tonight. You don’t ever think that things will get that bad. Everything was flat.”

The Angels trailed, 5-0, after the first inning. It wasn’t unfamiliar territory, as they have 23 come-from-behind victories, including 12 in June. And considering Oakland had Tom Candiotti on the mound, the A’s couldn’t have felt too comfortable.

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Candiotti was 1-7 with a 6.83 ERA in his previous 11 starts. He left in the sixth, as the Angels chipped away. Gary DiSarcina had a two-run single in the second. Dave Hollins had a two-run single in the fourth.

But the Angels didn’t get much relief from their bullpen. Greg Cadaret gave up home runs to Jason Giambi and Tejada in the fifth. Shigetoshi Hasegawa gave up a home run to Rickey Henderson--who stood at home plate admiring his handiwork.

“If your starter struggles early, and you can keep the game close, go three innings without letting them score, it’s important in this league because you can come back,” Collins said. “We got a couple big hits from guys in scoring position, but we couldn’t seem to get over the hump.”


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