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Angels’ Many Shortcomings Exposed

Times Staff Writer

This isn’t about one player. This isn’t about how much better the Angels might be when Darin Erstad returns, or whether they ought to sign Chuck Finley, or whether they can afford to let Aaron Sele work his way back into form every fifth day. The Angels appeared to waver Wednesday on whether Sele should start as scheduled Sunday, but that isn’t the point.

This is about a team for which salvation is more than one player away. The players are pretty much the same ones who won the World Series championship last year, but the performances are not. If and when the Angels get on their elusive roll, it might be too late.

The Angels again fell 8 1/2 games out of first place Wednesday, after a sloppy 6-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. The Angels suffered the indignity of Brian Roberts, a second baseman who hit three home runs in his first 401 major league at-bats, hitting his second grand slam against them in seven days. They suffered the indignity of Deivi Cruz, a shortstop batting .217, hitting a home run of his own.

But the Angels did themselves in too. Shortstop David Eckstein committed an error that led to four unearned runs, and he grounded into two double plays. Third baseman Troy Glaus threw a ball away, right fielder Tim Salmon overran a ball, Ramon Ortiz gave up two home runs in the first four innings and the Angels played their almost nightly game of catch-up.

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“Bad game for everybody,” Ortiz said.

Salmon joined the Angels in 1992, in a lost summer in which they finished 24 games out of first place. He has endured a 92-loss season and two 91-loss seasons. Salmon, better than anyone in the clubhouse, knows that sinking feeling that accompanies the realization that this isn’t going to be your year.

“I don’t think that point comes until later in the summer,” he said. “You just wake up one day in August, and you’re out of it.

“But, for us, at this point, I still think everybody’s holding out hope for us to get back on track and get some guys healthy. I think it would be different if we were completely healthy and we didn’t have the issues we were dealing with.”

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The disabled list includes Erstad, the center fielder, and Troy Percival, the closer. Their absence cannot account for the maddeningly inconsistent starting pitching. In four of their five games against the Orioles over the last eight days, the Angels trailed by scores of 5-0, 5-0, 5-0 and 4-0.

The Angels have outscored opponents, 112-69, after the fifth inning, but they have been outscored, 160-134, over the first five innings. The relievers have a 2.89 earned-run average, but the starters have a 5.17 ERA.

Ortiz, who completed a winless May with a 6.33 ERA, gave up four unearned runs in the second inning, but the fault did not all fall upon Eckstein.

After Jay Gibbons singled to start the inning, Tony Batista bounced an apparent double-play ball to Eckstein, who dropped the ball as he transferred it from his glove to his bare hand. Ortiz got the next two outs but then walked Geronimo Gil -- the No. 9 hitter -- and gave up the grand slam to Roberts.

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Before the game, Manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black met with Sele, who has failed to survive the fourth inning in two of his four starts.

After the meeting, Scioscia said the Angels might delay Sele’s next start, scheduled for Sunday, so that he could work an extra bullpen session.

“Whether he needs extra time remains to be seen,” Scioscia said.

Said Sele: “That’s funny. I talked to him about the same thing. That’s not what he told me.... I’m going Sunday.”

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Scioscia then clarified that the Angels might bump Sele back a couple of days but would not skip his turn and would most likely start him as scheduled Sunday.

“There are no plans to take him out of the rotation,” Scioscia said. “We haven’t even thought of that.”

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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May Daze

The Angels’ record by month in 2002 compared to 2003:

2002

* March...0-1

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* April...11-13

* May...19-7

2003

* March...0-1

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* April...13-13

* May*...11-11

* -- Three more games remain in May


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