Well before the July 31 trade deadline, Chicago White Sox right-hander Jeff Samardzija was one of the hottest names on the market. The struggling White Sox, many figured, would flip the talented arm and build for the future.
Yet as the deadline approached, the White Sox went quiet. Samardzija, it turned out, would not be traded. Nor would any other significant piece.
It was, Samardzija said, a message: that even with a sub-.500 record, even as the Kansas City Royals ran away with the division, the White Sox could still compete.
"That we were going for it, that we're trying to get in the wild-card spot and," he said, gesturing toward the locker of ace Chris Sale, "give a chance to let this lefty pitch a single game."
It was also a reflection of how wide open the wild-card race has become. Even after a 2-1 Angels victory Monday, the White Sox, like nearly three-quarters of the American League teams, remain alive, buoyed by hope that they can sneak into the postseason, steal a one-game playoff and ride the wave all the way to the World Series, as the Royals did last season.
"There's more teams that see themselves with an opportunity to make the playoffs than any year I can remember," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
For the Angels, the cluttered wild-card race injects extra urgency after a recent swoon left them with 17 losses in 23 games. And it made Monday's win, on an eighth-inning home run from C.J. Cron, all the sweeter: It came against a fellow postseason contender.
This season, there are plenty of those. Entering the week, seven teams were within five games of the Baltimore Orioles, who currently occupy the final wild-card position, including the Angels, now a half-game back and 21/2 games be-
hind the Astros in the AL West.
The three teams not within five games were the Seattle Mariners, picked by many to win the division; the Boston Red Sox, two years removed from a World Series title; and the Oakland Athletics, a playoff team last season.
"There's no games I think anybody feels good or takes a deep breath," White Sox Manager Robin Ventura said. "It's probably as much as going through the [Southeastern Conference] for football. You feel like there's really no breathing room."
After being swept by the White Sox last week, the Angels drew left-hander Carlos Rodon, who frustrated the Angels again Monday with a tricky changeup and a hard slider that buzzed inside on right-handed batters like a power saw.
The Angels didn't put a single runner into scoring position off Rodon, who pitched all eight innings, but Albert Pujols lined a home run over the left-
field wall in the second inning to give the Angels the lead.
In the third inning, Adam Eaton scored on a throwing error by Johnny Giavotella to tie the score, but young left-hander Andrew Heaney, who gave up five hits in six innings, bore down.
In the sixth inning, he loaded the bases with two outs. He ran the count full to Tyler Flowers and, before the eighth pitch of the at-bat, asked for a conference with catcher Carlos Perez. Flowers, they agreed, was sitting on his changeup. With the next pitch, his last of the night, he froze Flowers on a fastball.
Then Cron sent a Rodon changeup over the wall in right field for the winning run an inning later, giving the Angels just a bit more breathing room.
"We needed this win today," Cron said. "There was really no other way around that."