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Finley Strikes Down Mariners' Momentum

Baseball: Veteran left-hander and Percival stifle Seattle's pennant hopes as Angels win, 4-3.

September 24, 1996|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seattle's September surge toward the top of the American League West hit another blip Monday night, the Angels diffusing the Mariners' pennant hopes with a 4-3 victory in front of 16,212 at Anaheim Stadium.

Chuck Finley (15-15) gave up three runs on five hits and struck out 11 in eight innings, and Troy Percival struck out the side in the ninth for his 36th save, as the Angels prevented the Mariners from gaining a game on both Texas in the West and Baltimore in the wild-card race.

Seattle remains two games behind the Rangers and 1 1/2 games behind the Orioles.

"We have six games left, we can't leave anything in the locker room or on the bench," Mariner center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. said. "We can't control what Texas and Baltimore do. We can't be looking at the scoreboard every five minutes. We just have to worry about ourselves."

They have good reason to worry. A 10-game win streak has been replaced with a two-game losing streak, and the damage Monday night was self-inflicted.

The Angels scored two unearned runs in both the first and second innings, capitalizing on left fielder Mark Whiten's error in the first and shortstop Alex Rodriguez's error in the second.

Chili Davis hit a two-run homer in the first against starter Sterling Hitchcock, and Tim Salmon's bases-loaded, ground-rule double in the second gave the Angels a 4-0 lead.

Griffey doubled and Jay Buhner hit his 44th homer in the fourth, pulling the Mariners to within 4-2, and Griffey's solo homer in the sixth, his 48th, made it 4-3.

But Finley, who now has a 14-6 career record and 2.36 earned-run average against Seattle, and Percival held the Mariners the rest of the way.

"I came up with a big error," said Rodriguez, the 21-year-old who is one of the front-runners for the league's most-valuable-player award. "And I had a chance to make up for it and didn't.

"But this is no time to feel sorry for anyone. We just have to come out tomorrow, keep doing what we've been doing the last two weeks, and we'll be fine."

Some two weeks it has been. Seattle was a season-high nine games behind the Rangers on Sept. 12. Now the Mariners are two back.

The Mariners didn't merely creep back into the race, they stormed back with a club-record 10-game win streak that may have been even more remarkable than last year's September run, when they surpassed the Angels en route to the West title after trailing by 13 games in early August.

"It feels like the same magic as last year," Buhner said. "We're definitely stirring it up, making people take notice."

Pitching has played a major role in the comeback, especially during a four-game sweep of the Rangers last week, but Buhner said overall team confidence has been equally as important.

"Going through last year has definitely worked to our advantage," Buhner said. "September has been a big month for us the last few years, and there are a lot of big-time players here who thrive on that pressure. In big games, they're not afraid to step forward."

The names Buhner, Griffey, Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez immediately come to mind, but what about guys like Jamie Moyer, who is 6-2 with a 3.29 ERA since being acquired from Boston, and Terry Mulholland, who is 5-3 with a 4.69 ERA since being acquired from Philadelphia?

"You'd think last year has something to do with this, but we've had about a 40% turnover in talent [from last season], and we don't have one starting pitcher from last year's rotation," Manager Lou Piniella said. "That's unheard of for a division-winner.

"But we have a core of veterans who are excellent players, who grind it out every day, who battle."

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