Mercker Picks Up a Win to Remember

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Kent Mercker was sitting in the intensive care unit in May, wondering what would become of his life after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage on the Edison Field mound, he never thought about walking onto a baseball field again.

"I was too busy looking at all the tubes in my arms and the nurses coming in and out to check my temperature," Mercker said Tuesday night after earning his first win of the season in the Angels' 11-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox before 33,163 in Fenway Park.

"That's why this is so great. Every time I go to the mound, it's a new lease on life for me. This could be my last game ever, you never know. I'm just going to go as hard as I can and not worry about anything."

Tuesday night, that effort resulted in a solid six-inning performance, in which Mercker gave up four runs on nine hits, walked four and struck out two, helping the Angels erase the bitter memory of Monday night's 11-inning loss to Boston and get within 2 1/2 games of Cleveland in the wild-card race.

The left-hander was not overly impressed with himself--he could not hold an early four-run lead, and he thought his offense, which pounded out 14 hits, and his defense, which cut down the potential go-ahead run at the plate with a perfectly executed relay from the outfield in the fourth, deserved a lot more credit for the victory.

But everyone else in the Angel clubhouse seemed impressed with Mercker.

"Just to see him out on the mound, seeing him compete, really gives us a lift because we've seen what he's gone through," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I saw him the day after the hemorrhage, and he's gone from a wobbly guy who didn't know whether he'd ever pitch again to getting the win in a major league game. That's about as full circle as you can come in this game.

"Everyone has injuries, but you're talking about something that threatened his life. It really puts all of this in perspective, and it's a great thing to witness."

Like Mercker, Scioscia wasn't thinking in baseball terms when he visited Mercker in the hospital in May.

"I never thought about whether he'd pitch again," Scioscia said. "You were thinking, 'Is this guy gonna walk again? Is he gonna live? Is he gonna survive this?' That's where our priorities were."

Mercker's 91-pitch effort helped Angel first baseman Mo Vaughn win his first game in Fenway since leaving the Red Sox after the 1998 season. The Angels went 0-6 here last season.

Mercker got plenty of help. Orlando Palmeiro, subbing for the injured Darin Erstad in the leadoff spot, had two doubles, two singles and three runs batted in and added a diving catch in left field in the eighth. Third baseman Troy Glaus had three doubles, and center fielder Garret Anderson had three hits.

The Angels broke open a 4-4 game with a six-run fifth, a rally off starter Tim Wakefield and reliever Hipolito Pichardo that was highlighted by Glaus' two-run double and RBI doubles by Ron Gant and Palmeiro.

Tim Salmon's RBI single gave the Angels a 1-0 lead in the first, and Adam Kennedy's RBI fielder's choice and Palmeiro's two-run single in the second pushed the Angels ahead, 4-0.

But the Red Sox countered with a run in the third on back-to-back doubles by Troy O'Leary and Bernard Gilkey and three in the fourth on Lou Merloni's two-run double and O'Leary's RBI double to forge a 4-4 tie.

Nomar Garciaparra tried to score from first on O'Leary's double to left-center, but Anderson got the ball quickly to shortstop Kevin Stocker, who fired a strong one-hop throw to the plate to gun down Garciaparra.

"That was a big change of momentum," Scioscia said. "If Nomar is safe, they have the lead and their inning is still going. But that play gave us a chance to swing the bats again."

The Red Sox had many more chances to swing the bats but were unable to muster a hit off Mercker in the fifth and sixth, reliever Al Levine in the seventh and eighth and Lou Pote in the ninth. And that enabled Mercker (1-2) to reach the winner's circle for the first time this season.

"I get the win next to my name, but I didn't win it," Mercker said. "Our offense and defense won that game."

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AL Wild Card

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Team W L GB Cleveland 65 56 -- Boston 65 57 1/2 Oakland 66 58 1/2 ANGELS 65 61 2 1/2 Toronto 65 61 2 1/2

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