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Angels Take a Step Back in 8-6 Loss

July 02, 1996|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first half of the season may have been a one-step-forward two-steps-back exercise in futility for the Angels, but they began the second half with the opportunity to make up some ground on the streaking Texas Rangers.

Almost one of every six games they play in the second half will be against the West-leading Rangers, who they faced for the first time in 1996 Monday night.

But if this game was an indication of things to come, the Angels might as well run up the white flag right now. Texas increased its lead over the Angels to 8 1/2 games with an 8-6 victory in front of 19,754 at Anaheim Stadium.

The Rangers' first-half run to the top of the standings may have surprised some, but not Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann.

"When everyone was saying this spring that it would be Seattle and us, I kept saying that Texas would be a very good club too," Lachemann said. "They weren't that far out last year and they improved their [pitching] staff."

Maybe, but Texas batters haven't exactly taken a back seat. The Rangers fielded a starting lineup with six batters on a pace to drive in 90 or more runs and the three who aren't with batting averages of .313 or better.

Monday night, they pounded 12 hits--three of them home runs.

The Angels were never out of the game, however. They led, 2-0, 3-1, and, 3-2, before a three-run sixth inning lifted the Rangers into the lead. And they had the tying run at the plate with two out in the ninth when reliever Mike Henneman got Tim Salmon to ground to shortstop with Garret Anderson on second base.

It's no Coors Field, but with the temperature hovering close to 90 in the early innings, the ball was jumping out of the Big A.

Darin Erstad broke an 0-for-12 slump with a first-inning single to center and two batters later, Salmon smacked his 21st homer. Juan Gonzalez promptly cut the deficit in half, leading off the second with a solo shot to left. Both homers were of the turn-and-watch variety and the outfielders wasted no energy chasing a lost cause.

The Angels scored again in the second when J.T. Snow singled to left, Randy Velarde extended his hitting streak to 18--seventh longest in Angel history--with a single to right and Erstad drove in Snow with a line-drive single to right. The Rangers came back with a run in the third when Kevin Elster walked, took second on Ivan Rodriquez' single to left and scored on Gonzalez's single up the middle.

The batters seemed to be cooling off as the thermometer dropped, however, and Texas starter Kevin Gross (9-5), who gave up five hits in the first 1 2/3 innings, retired nine in a row before Don Slaught singled in the fifth. And Angel starter Mark Langston (5-4) got seven of the next nine Rangers after Gonzalez's run-scoring single in the third.

Rusty Greer opened the sixth with a roller to third, but Tim Wallach couldn't get a handle on the ball and never made a throw. Gonzalez forced Greer and designated hitter Mickey Tettleton, who came to the plate with only 10 hits and no home runs in 62 at-bats against Langston, slammed a home run deep in the seats in left-center.

Dean Palmer followed with a homer, slicing a drive around the foul pole in right to put Texas ahead, 5-3. One out later, former Angel Rene Gonzales singled to right and then Elster made his attempt at joining the long-ball parade. But Erstad went up against the center-field wall and reached over to snag Elster's drive and end the inning.

Gonzalez's two-run double in the seventh chased Langston and brought on Rich Monteleone, who had given up three homers in his last 3 2/3 innings. Monteleone got out of the inning when Tettleton lined into a double play and worked a 1-2-3 eighth.

The Angels took advantage of some shabby fielding by the Rangers in the seventh. Wallach reached first on Palmer's fielding error, took third as Velarde was thrown out trying to stretch a single to left into a double and scored when Elster couldn't handle Gary DiSarcina's grounder into the hole. Erstad followed with a single to right that sent Gross to a much-needed shower and then Slaught hit a lazy fly to left off reliever Jeff Russell that fooled Greer and dropped for a run-scoring single.

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