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It Will Be Different Kind of Game for Angels

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is so little to play for, yet there is so much to play for. That’s what the Angels will tell themselves when they resume their season against the Seattle Mariners Tuesday night in Safeco Field.

The Angels are out of the American League West race, 31 games behind the first-place Mariners, who have a magic number of two to clinch the division title. The Angels have been virtually eliminated from playoff contention, trailing Oakland by 14 games in the wild-card race with 18 games to go.

But these final three weeks of the season will have plenty of meaning for the Angels in the wake of last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, events that prompted Commissioner Bud Selig to halt play for nearly a week.

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“I’d imagine there will be a rush of emotions when they play the national anthem and we take the field,” Angel first baseman Scott Spiezio said. “It will be hard to concentrate and to put as much focus on the game as we did before. But we owe it to ourselves, to our way of life and to America to finish the season as strong as possible, to show that we’re not going to let this deter our lifestyle.”

Some players have struggled to find motivation for these final three weeks. Who cares about baseball when so many have been killed, when so many are still buried beneath the rubble that remains in New York and Washington? Some, such as Angel center fielder Darin Erstad, will draw inspiration from the tragedy.

“If anything, this will make my desire to play the game that much stronger,” Erstad said. “I try to cherish every day, but man, it can be taken away from you at any time. This might make you that much more inspired to get the most out of every day.

“I think the focus will be there, but say we win, and it’s an exciting game. Everything is going to be subdued, because everything has been put in perspective. But we have a responsibility to this organization and to this great game to give our best effort. When Wall Street opens, those guys are going to do their jobs. We have to do ours.”

It won’t be business as usual.

There will be increased security in stadiums around the country, and major league baseball has notified clubs of additional travel requirements and the likelihood of new Federal Aviation Administration guidelines for charter flights. In addition, a security officer will travel with teams on trips. Baseball’s Resident Security Agents (RSA) program, in which a local police or sheriff’s department officer is retained on a part-time basis by each club to oversee security in that team’s stadium, has been in place for several years.

But Sandy Alderson, baseball’s executive vice president of operations, said this is the first time those agents will travel with clubs on a routine basis, overseeing security at airports, in planes, and at hotels and visiting stadiums. This nine-game trip, the Angels’ last of the season, consists of three games in Seattle, three in Texas and three in Oakland. They will close their season with a nine-game homestand against Texas, Seattle and Oakland.

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The Angels can’t compete for a division title, they won’t compete for a playoff berth, and they can’t even play the role of spoiler. But they feel they can play an even bigger role, that of a nation’s healer.

“It’s going to be tough to go out there and focus on winning when people are still buried; if I could, I’d be out there digging through the rubble,” Angel closer Troy Percival said. “But this is probably the best help that we can give for the country, to get out there and help bring a sense of normalcy back.”

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The Angels, Mighty Ducks and several radio and television stations raised $780,000 Sunday during an all-day drive to benefit the American Red Cross at Edison Field, an event that attracted thousands and extended well past its scheduled 5 p.m. finish time.

“People were still coming up until 6:30 p.m., it never slowed down,’ said Tim Mead, Angel vice president of communications. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. People were signing over their tax-rebate checks. Kids were breaking open piggy banks. One person donated $10,000.”

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Tuesday night, the Angels will face the same pitcher, Seattle right-hander Freddy Garcia, that they faced in their last game. Garcia threw eight shutout innings in the Mariners’ 5-1 victory over the Angels last Monday night. Garcia will oppose Angel right-hander Ramon Ortiz.

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Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this story.

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