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Angels nearly let a big one get away

Times Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- There are still 70 games left in the regular season, but the Angels may already be running out of challengers in the American League West.

When they came to Texas five days ago, for example, the Rangers looked at the four-game series with the division leaders as their best chance to get back in the race. Yet the best they could do was hold serve, with the Angels’ hard-fought 11-10 victory in 11 innings Thursday giving them a split and pushing Texas 7 1/2 games off the pace -- the same place the Rangers were a week ago.

Now the Angels find themselves in Oakland, where the second-place Athletics will try to chip away at the Angels’ five-game lead, the largest in the majors, in the final series before the All-Star break.

Not that any of this has been easy, mind you. Take Thursday, for example, when the Angels blew a six-run lead, held on to force extra innings, then had to withstand a relentless Rangers attack in a win that took four hours 23 minutes and 446 pitches to complete.

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It also featured 32 hits, five home runs and 12 extra-base hits, yet it was decided on a ground-ball single, a sacrifice bunt and a bloop just over the infield.

“I guess it is kind of ironic,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.

But it still counts for only one game in the standings -- a page in the newspaper Scioscia said he rarely bothers to look at this early in the season.

“We focus on how we play the game, not looking at standings,” he said. “Standings are really not even an issue right now. There are teams that are six games back right now that, a month from now, might be six games up.

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“Every game carries weight. And you have to go out there and play well every night.”

The Angels didn’t do that Thursday, building a 10-4 lead after 4 1/2 innings helped by a pair of home runs from Howie Kendrick. But their pitchers wilted against a Texas offense that pounded out a season-high 20 hits. Fifteen came off starter John Lackey, who tied a 32-year franchise record for hits given up.

Yet remarkably he was still in line for the win when he left with two outs in the sixth.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a pitcher give up 15 hits and still be in line for a win,” Scioscia said. “I’m sure it’s happened somewhere.”

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Texas took care of that, though, tying it on a seventh-inning homer by Max Ramirez, one of seven Rangers with at least two hits. And that’s when the game really got weird, with Texas managing one hit over the last four innings while the Angels had the winning run thrown out at the plate in the ninth, when they left the bases loaded then got a runner to second with no outs in the 10th and left him too.

A single by Garret Anderson, a sacrifice by Reggie Willits and pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis’ bloop single finally ended the tie in the 11th -- but it didn’t end the drama, with the Rangers putting the tying and winning runs on without the benefit of a hit in the bottom of the inning before Francisco Rodriguez restored order, notching his 36th save.

The win also gave the Angels a club-record 56 wins before the All-Star break while keeping the Rangers where they were when the series started. And that, at least, was worth celebrating when it was all over.

“One positive, it’s about as hot as they can get and they got no ground,” Lackey said. "[But] it’s a little early in the year to be getting crazy.”

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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