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Angels Sock One Away

Times Staff Writer

For one night, at least, everything seemed right in the Angels’ world. OK, not everything. Center fielder Steve Finley’s struggles continued with an 0-for-4 performance that dropped his average to .216, and left fielder Garret Anderson missed his fifth consecutive game because of a lower-back injury.

But the Angels left their worries behind for a few hours Thursday night while they breezed to a 13-4 victory over the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in Angel Stadium.

Bartolo Colon, relying almost exclusively on a lively fastball that hit 97 mph, was dominant through six shutout innings to improve to 16-6, moving within four victories of becoming the Angels’ first 20-game winner since Nolan Ryan in 1974 and enhancing his candidacy for the American League Cy Young Award.

The Angel offense, so tepid in losses to Toronto on Tuesday and Wednesday, busted out for 15 hits, including a pair of three-run home runs by left fielder Juan Rivera, who capped a five-run fifth inning with his first homer and added another in the eighth, his six runs batted in equaling a career high set with the Montreal Expos against the Chicago White Sox on June 19, 2004.

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Casey Kotchman had three hits, including a solo home run, Bengie Molina had three hits, and Darin Erstad and Chone Figgins each had two hits and two RBIs, as the Angels pushed their AL West lead over idle Oakland to 2 1/2 games.

Perhaps just as important, the Angels gained some confidence in the opener of a four-game series against the team that swept them in the division series last season and is expected to provide the biggest hurdle for any AL team looking to reach the World Series.

“We don’t have to prove anything to ourselves,” Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. “We think we match up with the Red Sox. This is only one game. There won’t be any statements made during this series.”

Intended or not, Colon made one Thursday night, serving notice that he remains one of the game’s premier power pitchers. During his pregame routine, which includes long-tossing with Molina and throwing in the bullpen, Colon said the ball “felt small; it came out of my hand with a different feel.”

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It was a feeling of such explosiveness that Colon estimated 90 of the 104 pitches he threw in seven innings were fastballs. Scioscia said it was “the best fastball” Colon has shown in his two years with the Angels.

“The one time I threw a slider I almost broke my face,” Colon said through an interpreter, alluding to Bill Mueller’s seventh-inning single that whizzed past his head. “I told myself from the beginning of the game, I’m going to stay with the fastball.”

The Red Sox entered with an AL-leading .285 average, .362 on-base percentage and 487 walks and a reputation for driving pitchers batty with their ability to work deep counts, foul off pitches and string together quality at-bats.

Colon should know -- he amassed 55 pitches through the first two innings of an 8-3 loss to Boston in Game 2 of the division series last October.

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But Colon went into full-attack mode Thursday, pounding the strike zone with three power pitches, a two-seam fastball that sinks, a four-seam fastball that rides up in the strike zone, and another fastball that tails back over the plate.

Colon whiffed No. 3 hitter David Ortiz (31 homers, 107 RBIs) looking at a 97-mph fastball to end the first inning and cleanup batter Manny Ramirez (32 homers, 108 RBIs) swinging at a 97-mph fastball to open the second.

He struck out Ramirez with another 97-mph fastball in the fourth and retired 10 in a row from the third through sixth innings. Colon’s pitch count after six innings: 76.

“When I walked into the clubhouse [Thursday afternoon] someone reminded me they take a lot of pitches and take a lot of walks,” Colon said. “I knew 0-and-1 was the most important count for me. I had to get ahead and finish off the hitters.”

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Colon tired in the seventh, giving up three runs and five hits, but by then the Angels had built a huge lead against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who suffered a deep contusion and was knocked out of the game when Kotchman’s wicked fifth-inning liner hit him in the right ankle.

The Angels also got some relatively good news afterward when an MRI test on Anderson’s left knee showed patellar tendinitis, and an MRI test and bone scan of Anderson’s lower back showed irritation. Neither is considered to be related to the inflammatory arthritis that sidelined Anderson for 43 games in 2004.

“What they found is more of a conventional baseball injury that can be addressed,” Scioscia said. “His knee is feeling better, and his back is loosening up. It probably indicates he’ll be able to play the outfield every day at one point, and he should be back in the lineup [as a designated hitter] in a reasonable amount of time.”


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