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Angels’ Olivares Teases, Then Beats the Big Juan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Disaster, meet Angel pitcher Omar Olivares. Olivares, meet disaster. The two stood face-to-face Friday night, stared each other down and, much to the surprise of 35,505 at the Ballpark in Arlington, went their separate ways.

Olivares did the unthinkable with one out and a three-run lead in the seventh inning of the Angels’ 5-1 win, walking the two batters who preceded the American League’s most prolific hitter, Texas Ranger right fielder Juan Gonzalez, who has mashed his way to a major league-leading 80 runs batted in.

“That,” Angel bench coach Joe Maddon said, “was kind of scary.”

One swing could tie the score, and swing mightily Gonzalez did. But after contact, the handle of Gonzalez’s bat remained in his hands, and the barrel dribbled toward third base.

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He had grounded into a fielder’s choice. Reliever Greg Cadaret came on to retire Will Clark on a ground ball, and he added two more scoreless innings as the Angels won the opener of an important four-game series and their 11th game in their last 12.

Olivares, who began the season in the bullpen but has become one of the Angels’ most effective starters, shut down one of baseball’s most potent lineups, giving up one run on six hits and striking out five in 6 2/3 innings to gain the victory.

Cadaret, who began the season in triple-A Vancouver--and about as close to oblivion as you can get in this game--pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings for his first save in almost four years.

And the Angels, who have six front-line players--including three starting pitchers--on the disabled list; who have a designated hitter (Tim Salmon) who can barely run because of a foot injury and who are without injured second baseman Justin Baughman and suspended catcher Phil Nevin and Manager Terry Collins, are 1 1/2 games behind the Rangers.

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“That says a lot about the makeup and character of this team,” Maddon said. “Guys are banged up, we don’t have our manager, but I think it has drawn them closer together. You can feel it in the clubhouse. Sometimes adversity can galvanize a group.”

So can great pitching and timely hitting. After Rusty Greer’s first-inning homer gave Texas a 1-0 lead, the Angels answered with Jim Edmonds’ solo homer in the fourth, Salmon’s RBI single and Garret Anderson’s two-run homer in the sixth and Salmon’s bases-empty homer in the eighth.

The Angels have come to expect these Texas-sized feats from Salmon, who is batting .466 (41 for 88) with seven homers and 23 RBIs at the Ballpark in Arlington, but isn’t sure why. “I’m hesitant to even talk about it,” Salmon said. “Why spoil a good thing?”

Some more news Salmon didn’t need: His .416 average (87 for 209) against Texas is the highest by a Ranger opponent with a minimum of 150 at-bats.

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“You had to go and tell me that,” Salmon said. “I’m better off not knowing. I know I hit the ball well here. The reason is because I don’t think about it. I just go up there and hit.”

Edmonds has been one of the Angels’ top hitters all season, Anderson has raised his average from .253 to .283 in the last two weeks and Olivares (4-2) has pitched so well that a game such as Friday night’s has become the norm.

But who would have thought Cadaret would play such an important role in a big Angel victory? He has played for 10 organizations in the past six years, most in triple-A, and was a mop-up man his first month in Anaheim.

But with Mike Holtz struggling, Cadaret has become the primary left-handed set-up man, and he rewarded the Angels on Friday night by retiring all seven batters he faced. It was his first save since Aug. 7, 1994.

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“I feel a little vindicated,” Cadaret said. “You look at my career stats, and there’s not a lot of bad years. I got people out, but I threw too many balls, pitched behind in the count a lot and walked too many guys. I gave managers ulcers.”

What is he giving them now?

“Hopefully Milk of Magnesia.”


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