This is big for Matthews

Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- The money -- $50 million over five years -- was nice, and so was the chance to play in Southern California, where he grew up.

But the reason Gary Matthews Jr. spurned a similar offer from San Francisco to sign with the Angels last winter was the chance to play in series such as this -- three games against Seattle in late August, first place in the AL West at stake.

“I haven’t played in a lot of big series,” Matthews said. “That’s why I came here. I wanted a chance to go the playoffs. . . . I’ve had so many Septembers where you have nothing to play for, and that gets hard.”


Matthews has played for seven teams in eight years, and the only whiff he had of a pennant race was in 2004, when Texas finished third in the West, three games behind the Angels and two behind Oakland.

Asked if he was any more keyed up for Monday’s game, Matthews said, “Not really,” but that didn’t seem to be the case in the fourth inning, when Matthews, in an ill-advised act of aggressiveness, attempted to stretch a bloop hit to center into a double.

Ichiro Suzuki’s throw to second baseman Jose Lopez beat Matthews by about five steps, but Matthews popped up out of his slide before the base to avoid Lopez’s glove, which was near the bag. Matthews then stuck his foot on the bag as he arched back to avoid Lopez’s tag to the belt, and was ruled safe.

The sleight of feet resulted in a run -- Matthews eventually scored on Jeff Mathis’ suicide squeeze to give the Angels a 4-0 lead.

“That was the old dead-leg trick, huh?” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He was safe.”

Kelvim Escobar, who has a 15-6 record and 2.77 earned-run average and has been the Angels’ most consistent starter, will undergo an MRI test on his left knee after the season, but the right-hander is confident he won’t need surgery to clean up scar tissue.

Escobar has been bothered all season by patella tendinitis, which prevents him from running between starts, and he said the knee “has been sore” in recent weeks. It was wrapped in ice after a workout Monday.

“They’ll see if there’s any damage and go from there,” Escobar said. “They say I won’t need surgery, but they’re going to put me on a rehabilitation program.”

Casey Kotchman, out since Thursday because of a sprained left middle finger and bruised left thumb, took 15 to 20 swings off a tee, took ground balls at first base and made throws to second Monday.

“There’s still some swelling,” said Kotchman, who was hit while swinging at a Mariano Rivera pitch last Wednesday. “But I would say everything felt OK.”

Kotchman hopes to take soft-toss swings and some batting practice today. There is a chance he could return Friday against Texas.

Chone Figgins, sidelined since Wednesday because of a bruised left wrist, took ground balls at third base but still hasn’t been able to swing a bat since being injured. Figgins is available to pinch-run, but it appears he won’t return until next week.

Catcher Mike Napoli, on the DL since July 28 because of a strained right hamstring, ran “at about 60-65%" Monday and continues to make progress toward a possible minor league rehabilitation assignment this weekend. . . . Infielder Erick Aybar (strained left hamstring) ran Monday and should be ready to return when he is eligible to come off the DL on Sept. 4. . . . Reliever Chris Resop underwent surgery to shave a bone spur on his right elbow and will begin a rehab program in September.