It has become a tradition in Anaheim Stadium. Pitcher Jim Abbott walks from the bullpen to the dugout after pregame warmups and gets a rousing ovation from fans down the left-field line.
Abbott appreciates the support, but the popular left-hander sure has a funny way of showing it. He struggled again at home Friday night, yielding six runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings of a game the Angels had to win to keep pace with Seattle and New York in the American League West and wild-card races.
But his teammates took him off the hook, scoring three runs in the fifth inning and two in the eighth to defeat the Oakland Athletics, 9-6, in a 3-hour 59-minute game--that's an Anaheim Stadium record for a nine-inning game--before a paid crowd of 24,793.
The Angels' third consecutive victory kept them within two games of the first-place Mariners and one game of the Yankees with two games remaining. One more Seattle victory or Angel loss would clinch the West title for Seattle, while the Yankees' magic number for the wild-card berth is two.
First baseman J.T. Snow, who had four hits, smashed a two-run homer in the eighth, and Rex Hudler had four hits to lead the Angels' 15-hit attack. The Angels also had three sacrifice bunts, giving them 10 sacrifice hits in the past nine games.
But the bullpen, as it was in the past two games, was a huge factor.
John Habyan did not yield a run in two innings before running into trouble in the seventh, when Oakland loaded the bases with two out. But Mike James came on to strike out Mike Bordick to end the inning and preserve a 7-6 lead.
Set-up man Troy Percival, flawless in the Angels' previous victories over Seattle Wednesday ad Oakland Thursday, struck out the side in the eighth, punctuating his final out with a fist-pumping celebration as he walked off the field. And Lee Smith pitched a scoreless ninth for his 37th save.
Abbott, whose complete-game, three-hitter over the Texas Rangers Sunday in The Ballpark at Arlington snapped the Angels' nine-game losing streak, now has an 0-3 record and 7.54 earned-run average in six Anaheim Stadium starts.
He was charged with both runs in Oakland's two-run fifth, which snapped a 4-4 tie. Mark McGwire doubled with one out and scored on Terry Steinbach's two-out single to left field. Steinbach eventually scored on Scott Brosius' bloop single to center off Habyan to make it 6-4.
But the Angels came back in the bottom of the fifth, which Snow and Garret Anderson opened with singles. Hudler's smash up the middle caromed off Oakland pitcher Steve Ontiveros' leg and into left field for an RBI double, and Anderson scored when A's third baseman Mike Gallego booted Tony Phillips' grounder, tying the game, 6-6.
Oakland reliever John Briscoe walked Gary DiSarcina to load the bases with one out, and Jim Edmonds' lifted a sacrifice fly to left to score Hudler to give the Angels a 7-6 lead. Tim Salmon lined to right to end the inning.
The Angels took the field Friday knowing that the Yankees had won, and Seattle completed its victory over Texas while the Angels were in the first inning, but the Angels seemed undaunted.
They took a 1-0 lead in the first when DiSarcina reached on shortstop Mike Bordick's fielding error, went to third on Edmonds' single to center and scored on Salmon's sacrifice fly to right.
Oakland tied the game in the top of the third when Bordick singled and Javier doubled into the left-field corner. Anderson's error on the play allowed Javier to go to third, but Geronimo Berroa's fly ball to right was not deep enough to score Javier, and Abbott got Brent Gates on a grounder to second for the third out.
* ON THE ROPES
Angel playoff hopes get dimmer as Seattle clinches the American League West title and New York maintains its lead in the wild-card race. C9