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Angels Have Been Here and Done That

Before the tension of another cuticle-chewing September game Thursday, the Angels were gathered around clubhouse televisions watching a sports list show.

Documenting the greatest chokes in history.

“This place is bizarre,” said Steve Finley.

In one corner, Jose Molina laughed about being a hero. In another corner, Scot Shields was calm about changing a role. Outside, Mike Scioscia stared into the group of stone-faced writers and cracked jokes.

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“Look at this,” said Finley. “It’s the same around here now as it was in April.”

The same as it was in 2002.

The same as it will be two weeks from now.

Blowing a three-game lead with 10 games remaining would involve some sort of choking, impossible when the Angels are so busy yawning.

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They beat the Texas Rangers on Thursday in the same manner they will beat back the Oakland Athletics and wind up in the postseason for the third time in four years.

A shrug. A sigh. A two-out hit.

They trailed, they led, they tied, they triumphed, 7-4, on consecutive bases-loaded knocks in the sixth.

“The harder it is for you to watch,” said Molina, “the easier it is for us to play.”

Never let them see you sweat?

For the Angels, it’s more like, never let them see you smile.

They stifle their grins the way other contending teams hide their trembles.

“This is our time,” said Adam Kennedy, eyes wide. “This is when it really gets fun.”

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Thus they showed their typical fall fighting style Thursday, one we’ve seen countless times since the five-run comeback on that precious October night of 2002.

Scott Spiezio didn’t just win a world championship, he started a trend.

Stumble, stand up, deliver.

“Remember, we were three games behind with nine games to play last year and won the division,” said Jarrod Washburn. “We’re going to panic now?”

A dozen Ervin Santana pitches into the game, the Rangers had runners on first and third with none out.

Eight pitches later -- two flies and a grounder -- he was out of the inning after allowing just one run.

“I think only about the hitter, not about runners in scoring position or any of that stuff,” Santana said later.

In the third, Darin Erstad dropped a double-play grounder, leading to a second Ranger run on Hank Blalock’s ensuing single. Unmoved, Santana struck out Alfonso Soriano to end the inning.

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“Every day around here, a new day,” said Molina, the reserve who won Wednesday’s game with a hit.

This 2-0 deficit perfectly set up the Angel third inning: a double, a walk, a single and a cool rookie.

That would be Casey Kotchman, who stared down Chris Young with two strikes and drove a ball to the wall to score two runs to give the Angels the lead.

Give Vladimir Guerrero credit for running hard enough to score from first, the team’s best player giving another honest effort.

The Rangers tied it two innings later against Santana, but that only set up another quiet Angel rally.

Sixth inning, two out, two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Kennedy, he of the three-homer playoff swing.

Ball, strike, line drive to right, one run scored.

Next up, Chone Figgins, he of last year’s playoff debacle, and don’t think he’s forgotten.

Strike, strike, foul ball ... worry? Not him, not now. He calmly watched two balls from somebody named Edison Volquez, then lined the next pitch to right field to score two more runs to clinch the victory.

“With last year’s experience ... Figgy has become fearless,” Scioscia said.

It was a win that, if it wasn’t for the fireworks, you might not have even realized occurred.

Orlando Cabrera caught a pop fly to end the game and then just sort of stood there like, oh, OK, we won?

The Roman candles and cheering fans woke him from his stupor and brought his teammates onto the field, just another step toward another October.

The winning pitcher was a rookie.

The big RBIs were by a guy without any experience and a guy without a position.

And the save went to a veteran starter, which may have been the biggest news of the night.

Not many high-priced aces at the peak of their careers would buy into a move to the bullpen, but that’s exactly what Kelvim Escobar did this season after returning from the disabled list.

The Angels needed him to stretch out his rehabilitating elbow, but they also needed him to support their weary relievers.

On Thursday, allowing one run in three innings for his first save in more than two years, Escobar enabled Shields and Frankie Rodriguez to rest while again showing that this team is more about nuance than numbers.

Escobar has taken Shields’ place as the team’s top setup man, which Shields publicly accepted with polite compliance.

“It’s all about team for us now,” said Shields. “Two weeks left, you throw all the egos out the door.”

Which is exactly what Escobar did last month.

“When we told him he may come back in the bullpen, his initial reaction was, whatever you need me, whenever you need me,” Scioscia said. “He’s that kind of player.”

And this is that kind of team, headed for a showdown series in Oakland beginning Monday. The hobbled and harried A’s will be fortunate to still be alive by midweek, but don’t tell the Angels, who are gearing up for ... Tampa Bay?

“Our challenge is our next game,” said Scioscia in the winning manager’s office late Thursday, a place almost as quiet as the clubhouse beyond.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.


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