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Angel Message: We Can Win It : Baseball: They lose, 10-5, to Toronto, declare they are in race for the long haul.


It has been a brilliant, well-conceived stratagem. The Angels dump off a few high-priced players in the winter, downplay their expectations and let everyone foolishly believe they would be content to be a .500 team.

No one in the American League West ever suspected a thing.

After they lost to Toronto, 10-5, Monday, the Angels, figuring their secret would get out anyway, let the baseball world know what they really have in mind.

"We're going for this thing," Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said. "We're not just satisfied being in first place, and we're not going to sit back on our laurels and say this is good enough.

"These guys believe in themselves, and everyone on our ballclub is gaining confidence."

The Angels (27-21) are sitting in first place with their biggest lead entering the month of June since 1983, and despite their four-game winning streak ending before 30,620 at Anaheim Stadium, they believe more than ever that they are capable of winning their first division title since 1986.

"It's like this fan on the radio was saying the other day," said second baseman Torey Lovullo. "If the Los Angeles Kings can do it, there's no reason why the California Angels can't do it, too.

"There's no doubt in our minds we can do it. In spring training, I think there was a lot of uncertainty about what would happen. That's gone now. We've proven to ourselves we can win this thing.

"Look around. There are no runaway teams in this division, so who's to say we can't be 25 games above .500 in August ourselves?"

In an attempt to strengthen the team for a possible division race, the Angels made their first move Monday, releasing veteran reliever Chuck Crim and calling up triple-A reliever Darryl Scott. The Angels also revealed plans to move triple-A starters Russ Springer and left-hander Hilly Hathaway into the bullpen at Vancouver, preparing them for pending arrivals.

The Angels haven't given up on the idea of Springer's being a starting pitcher, Rodgers said, but considering their bullpen woes, they want him ready in case they need him in relief.

"Right now, he's our No. 1 starting replacement," Rodgers said, "but we want him to be our No. 1 bullpen replacement, too. The same with Hilly Hathaway. If we make a move, those will be our first two guys."

The Angel front office, who must pay the remaining $734,465 on Crim's guaranteed $1.1 million salary, also might soon be asking permission from owners Jackie and Gene Autry to release third baseman Gary Gaetti, who still has more than $5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract. Third baseman Kelly Gruber, who is hitting .500 at triple-A Vancouver, is eligible to be activated on June 5.

"If we make that recommendation," Rodgers said, "it's going to have to be their decision. Mr. and Mrs. Autry had to OK this with Crim, and we can't ask them to eat Gaetti's contract without their permission.

"Just because Kelly Gruber is coming back doesn't mean he's a permanent fixture in our lineup, come hell or high water. But obviously a healthy, aggressive Kelly Gruber would be an asset to our ballclub.

"I mean, that's why we made the trade in the first place."

While the Angels were making moves and preparing for possible others Monday, they were rudely introduced to the defending World Series champion Blue Jays, who put on a power show in their first visit of the year to Anaheim.

Toronto tied a season high with five home runs--including two by first baseman John Olerud--and made starter John Farrell's day miserable. Farrell (2-6, 5.88 earned-run average) yielded a career-high four homers and career-high eight earned runs in his 6 1/3-inning outing, spoiling third baseman Rene Gonzales' first multiple-RBI game at Anaheim Stadium since June 20, 1992.

Gonzales, who is hitting .306 with nine RBIs in his last 10 games, also is making it apparent that he's not about to easily surrender his third base job to Gruber or anyone else.

"I try not to even think about what will happen," Gonzales said, "but if I'm doing my job and we're winning, I don't think it's right I don't play."

Rodgers says that it's premature to make any decisions on the third-base job, and he isn't contemplating a change in the starting rotation with Farrell. The Angels have lost eight of the 10 games in which Farrell has started.

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