* MAY 31-JUNE 2: The Angels muddled through April and May, going 25-25, struggling to find some momentum and personality. Then, within a three-day span on a Midwest road trip, they staged their most impressive comeback to that point, erasing a 5-0 deficit to beat Minnesota, 6-5, on May 31, and beat Kansas City, 7-5, in a brawl-filled game that featured 12 ejections.

The victory over the Twins not only started a nine-game winning streak, it fostered a never-say-die attitude that had been missing and gave the Angels confidence in their comeback abilities. "There's no question everything today was a little different," Manager Terry Collins said after the game. "I saw a complete change in the club. Everyone started yelling and hollering. It got pretty loud on the bench."

The bench-clearing brawls, in which numerous Angels came to the defense of utility player Frank Bolick, who was sucker-punched by Kansas City's Felix Martinez, did wonders for team chemistry. They went on to finish 22-6 in June, going from 5 1/2 games behind Texas in the West to 3 1/2 games ahead of the Rangers.

* AUG. 24-27: In what was termed a make-or-break trip, the Angels went into Yankee Stadium and played five of their best games of the year. The Angels came from behind to win the first three, then lost two one-run games. The Angels played with intensity and emotion, highlighted by Darin Erstad's ninth-inning at-bat in the final game, when he fouled off five two-strike pitches before hitting a score-tying RBI single off closer Mariano Rivera.

* SEPT. 2: As Erstad neared first on what looked to be a sure first-inning double at Cleveland, he heard a pop in his left hamstring and hobbled to the bag. He didn't return to the starting lineup again until Sept. 17, and the Angels were never the same.

They had overcome injuries to pitchers Ken Hill and Jack McDowell and third baseman Dave Hollins, but the loss of their best all-around player in the heat of a playoff race was too much to overcome. The Angels went 4-8 in his absence, and Erstad couldn't help much when he returned with a strained hamstring.

* SEPT. 12: A victory was all but in the bank for the Angels in Baltimore. Closer Troy Percival entered the game in the ninth with a 2-0 lead and as good a fastball as he has had all season.

Then No. 9 hitter Mike Bordick, after fouling off five two-strike pitches, lined a two-run homer off the left-field foul pole, and Eric Davis hit an RBI single, sending the Angels to a stunning, 3-2 loss.

That shocker set the tone as the Angels went 1-6 in Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Texas, going from two games ahead of Texas to one game down.

* SEPT. 21-23: The Angels were mowed down in the showdown, getting swept--and outscored, 25-3--by the Rangers in a three-game series that decided the AL West championship.

The teams were tied for first place going into the series, but Ranger pitchers Todd Stottlemyre, Rick Helling and John Burkett dominated the Angels, who picked the worst time of the year to play three of their worst games of the season.

The sweep gave Texas a three-game lead with four games to play and all but eliminated the Angels.


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Designated hitter Tim Salmon was an inspiration, hitting .300 with a team-leading 26 home runs and 88 RBIs and running the bases with reckless abandon despite a painful foot injury that will require surgery after the season.

CY YOUNG AWARD: His record (11-9) was not spectacular, but Chuck Finley, left, who had a 3.39 ERA and 212 strikeouts, may have won 17 or 18 games had his teammates provided more than an average of 3.21 runs per game while the left-hander was still pitching.

ROLAIDS RELIEF AWARD: Whether it was long relief, middle relief, short relief or a closer role, elastic-armed Shigetoshi Hasegawa filled them all almost flawlessly, going 8-3 with a 3.15 ERA and four saves and easing the loss of injured set-up man Mike James.

GOLD GLOVE AWARD: No Angel was more reliable than shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who made only 14 errors and provided his share of highlight-reel plays from baseball's most demanding defensive position.

SILVER SLUGGER: Center fielder Jim Edmonds hit .306 with a franchise-record 42 doubles, a team-leading 115 runs, 25 homers and 90 RBIs, and his slugging percentage (.506) was second on the team behind Salmon (.533).

PURPLE HEART: With guts came glory for pitcher Jack McDowell, who ignored the pain in his surgically repaired elbow to win four of his seven starts after coming off the disabled list in mid-August.

UNSUNG HERO: Matt Walbeck, signed as a backup catcher, stepped in for the injured Todd Greene and provided solid, if not spectacular defense and hit a very respectable .257 with six homers and 46 RBIs in 107 games.

COMEBACK PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: Knuckleballer Steve Sparks, who went 9-4 with a 4.34 ERA, and second baseman Randy Velarde, who hit .250 with 24 RBIs in 50 games, share the award after sitting out the 1997 season because of elbow reconstruction surgeries.

MOST MAGNETIC: Finley, who seemed to attract line drives like flowers attract bees. He was hit in the left elbow twice by comebackers, and even when he was minding his own business on the bench during a July 18 game against Baltimore, Joe Carter pulled a line drive into the Angel dugout that nailed Finley in the right forearm.

BEST PREDICTION: Third baseman Dave Hollins, who in spring training said: "Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to make my 20 errors." He finished with 17, but surely would have made it if he didn't suffer a season-ending shoulder injury in early August.

WORST PREDICTION: Angel President Tony Tavares, who last February said: "If we get [Jack] McDowell, I'm feeling pretty good about going to the American League championship series. I really think we're there if we get him." You'll get there all right. With a ticket.

MAN OVERBOARD AWARD: Closer Troy Percival, after an emotional, 7-6, come-from-behind win over New York on Aug. 25: "Everyone says they can't believe we're hanging in there with Texas. We're not hanging on. We're running away."

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