The Angels hit a nice little trifecta at McAfee Coliseum on Thursday, getting Bartolo Colon just enough -- but not too much -- work to tune up for Tuesday’s playoff opener, beating the Oakland Athletics, 7-1, and probably securing the American League Cy Young Award for their ace.
Colon gave up one run and five hits in five innings to finish the regular season with a 21-8 record and 3.48 earned-run average in 33 starts. The right-hander struck out 157 and walked 43 in 222 2/3 innings and was 11-2 in starts after an Angel loss.
“I don’t see much of a debate -- I think he’s absolutely the Cy Young winner,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “There are a lot of guys who pitched very well, but for what Bart’s accomplished, to get us into the playoffs, for being the lead dog in the rotation, for putting up the numbers he’s put up, he’s the one who deserves it.”
Colon’s closest challengers are Minnesota left-hander Johan Santana, who is 15-7 but leads the league in ERA (2.92) and strikeouts (229), and Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, who is 7-4 with a 1.40 ERA and 43 saves. Cleveland’s Cliff Lee (18-5, 3.79 ERA) and Chicago’s Jon Garland (17-10, 3.53 ERA) and Mark Buehrle (16-8, 3.19 ERA) could garner votes.
If Colon wins, he would be the Angels’ second Cy Young winner, joining Dean Chance, who won in 1964. It is only the fourth time an Angel has reached 21 wins; Nolan Ryan had 22 in 1974 and 21 in 1973, and Clyde Wright had 22 in 1970.
“It would be a privilege to win the award because that will bring the Angels’ name to the front,” Colon said through an interpreter. “I thought about it. There’s no denying it. One of the things that made it easier was we were competing for something as a team. That made it easier to focus on winning, not necessarily the Cy Young.”
Colon has had another distraction, a stiff lower back that has hampered him in September and contributed to rocky outings in two of his previous three starts. Though the back didn’t really bother him Thursday, Colon admitted he is not 100% entering the playoffs.
“I’m going to feel it throughout the postseason, but I’m not worried about it, because I can pitch through it,” Colon said. “Adrenaline will take care of any pains I have.”
Colon, starting on three days’ rest so the Angels could set him up for Tuesday’s start, threw 80 pitches Thursday, his only blemish Nick Swisher’s home run in the fourth inning.
With starters Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad getting a second day off in a row, Robb Quinlan and Jose Molina each hit home runs in the second inning against Barry Zito to give the Angels a 5-1 lead.
Relievers Kevin Gregg, Jason Christiansen and Brendan Donnelly nailed down the win, the Angels’ 18th in September, matching a club record set in 2002.
“This was exactly what I was looking for,” Colon said. “It’s nice the way it came out, with the number of pitches I threw. Now, I’m looking forward to next week.”
With Colon and John Lackey lined up for the first two playoff games, the Angels think they will have a formidable one-two pitching punch.
They feel just as good about the rest of their rotation -- Angel starters lead the league with a 3.77 ERA -- but they were no closer Thursday to deciding which two of the remaining three starters, left-hander Jarrod Washburn or right-handers Paul Byrd and Ervin Santana, would pitch Games 3 and 4.
If the Angels open against the Yankees, Washburn and Santana could have a slight edge: Washburn was 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this season and has fared well against them throughout his career; Santana was 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in two starts against New York this season.
Byrd pitched extremely well against Boston (1-1, 2.46 ERA in two starts) and Cleveland (2-0, 2.08 ERA in two starts), and Santana did not pitch well against Boston (1-1, 6.17 ERA in two starts).
Washburn struggled against Chicago (0-1, 6.11 ERA in three starts), and White Sox sluggers Paul Konerko (.378, four homers, 11 runs batted in) and Jermaine Dye (.447, two homers, eight RBIs) have had considerable success against the left-hander.
“It might not be the guy who is the obvious choice, but if you look at internal matchups, it helps you make the decision,” Scioscia said.
“Right now, I think any five of those guys are capable of going into a tough park and giving us a chance to win.”