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Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Can't Stand The Rain: Mariners 3, Angels 2

Any game that starts with a 50-minute rain delay at Angel Stadium recalls bad memories for me: their 2005 ALCS games, at least a couple of which were played through drizzles of varying strength against a White Sox squad that sank them and nearly swept them. Watching the Canadian storm gather, then, as we walked across the parking lot and into the stadium, held a certain sense of foreboding. By the time we were up the third base ramp and around to the second deck home plate team store, the rain was pouring hard.

This prompted a futile and comical visit from the groundskeepers, who hadn't the slightest clue how to get the tarp all the way over the infield. With the tarp stuck about three-quarters open and the first base line well exposed, some security employees joined them and tried to haul the thing back, presumably to make a running try with the tarp aloft. Meanwhile, the rain intensified and became a outright cloudburst, just soaking everything. They finally got the thing as far as 15-20 feet up the second base line, but no further, and so we returned to our march upstairs to our seats.

Fortunately, we weren't forced to actually go in them, which would have required some backtracking at that point to get to an escalator, the only dry passage to the upper deck. On the way, we found no less a personage than Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, a huge mountain of a man, set up in front of the team store beside a card table with a stack of copies of his new book, Dropping the Ball. When an opportunity like that emerges — and unbelievably, nobody's standing in line to get a copy — you take advantage and buy one with Winfield's signature as fast as you can. Just before I did, Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman stopped by to say hello (to him, not me), and so I shortly bought a copy and got the thing signed.

About this time the rain started to abate, and we worked our way upstairs as Winfield readied himself to depart. The rain finally silenced, we waited a good half hour after we were seated before the game commenced. Bart shut down the first three batters he faced, and then stretched it to seven of nine on his way to facing the minimum through three. It was a great start, much better than I had anticipated.

The Mariners, on the other hand, immediately got into trouble, with Figgins and Cabrera both producing singles against Miguel Batista. But Vlad hit into a double play, Anderson walked, and Kotchman K'd, which pretty much set the tone for the Angels the rest of the afternoon: almost, but not quite, getting there, squandering five runners in scoring position overall, and three of those on third base.

Bart got into trouble in the fourth, giving up a pair of runs, but got out of the jam without further damage. In the fourth, Bart immediately gave up a leadoff single to Jose Lopez, who eventually scored on Ichiro's RBI single. Adrian Beltre's hard-hit liner to short ended the frame, but it was the kind of inning that made you wonder how much worse his sixth would be, or whether he would even go out again.

Nope. Instead, Colon went three more frames, retiring the next five in succession, and nine of eleven, one of which reached on a Howie Kendrick error. It was, in fact, arguably Bart's best game of the year, inasmuch as he hasn't gone eight frames previously.

The Angels started making progress against Batista in he sixth, with Garret Anderson reaching on a one-out strikeout; Kotch singled him to third, and Maicer Izturis drove GA home with an RBI infield single, one of two infield singles Izzy had on the day. A walk to Gary Matthews, Jr. convinced John McLaren that enough was enough, and instead of sending in now-released Rick White, as he did during the road series (twice!), McLaren went through a series of pitching changes worthy of Tony LaRussa. Sean Green, Eric O'Flaherty, Cha-Seung Baek, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and George Sherrill each made two or fewer outs each, as McLaren tried furiously to stave off elimination.

The gambit worked, though oddly the Angels ended up scoring against J.J. Putz in the ninth. Putz gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Reggie Willits, who eventually scored on Vlad's RBI groundout. Garret Anderson had a long at bat against Putz, but finally succumbed to a strikeout with the tying run in scoring position. Frustrating as the outcome was, it gives the Angels a bit of good news about Colon, who needed, if nothing else, a good outing before he hits free agency, and maybe a shot at a postseason roster slot. Darren Oliver has certainly won one of those, keeping up his recent good pitching with another scoreless frame in the ninth, giving up only a single to Johjima and ultimately facing the minimum by getting Lopez to ground into a 6-3 double play.

The clinch will have to wait. Tomorrow would be good, please.

Update: I forgot to mention that somewhere in there, in the sixth, in fact, Mike Scioscia made the mistake of announcing and then pulling Kendry Morales in favor of Juan Rivera, who popped out to third to end the frame. Boo, Mike. Boo.

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