Luis Alicea could see the writing on the wall for a week, but not until Friday did the writing actually hit the wall in the Angel clubhouse: Alicea wasn't in the lineup and is no longer the team's starting second baseman.
"That's my life story," Alicea said before the game against the Red Sox. "This happens to me every year."
Well, not like this. Alicea has been deemed expendable in the past, traded by St. Louis in December 1994, released by Boston before the '96 season and not re-signed by the Cardinals last winter.
But he has never lost a job in the middle of the season because of something completely out of his control. In this case, it was the Angels' acquisition of leadoff batter Rickey Henderson last week, their hedge against the possibility of a future without Tony Phillips.
Phillips, though, returned from his drug suspension Thursday night, and with Henderson at designated hitter and the outfield of Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Garret Anderson intact, the only other spot for Phillips was second base.
So, Alicea will return to the utility role for which he was originally signed before second baseman Randy Velarde suffered a season-ending arm injury in spring training.
"It's disappointing, but it's something I have to cope with," said Alicea, who is batting .259 with 14 doubles, seven triples and 32 RBIs. "If Tony didn't have his problem, we wouldn't have gotten Rickey, but now that they're both here, they've got to be in the lineup . . . and I'm not."
Manager Terry Collins' Houston Astro team suffered a September collapse last season, leading the Cardinals by 2 1/2 games going into the final month but losing 17 of their last 25, finishing six games back in the NL Central.
But Collins, who some thought was wound a little too tight in Houston, hopes to apply the lessons he learned with the Angels this September.
"The tougher things got, the tougher I got," Collins said of 1996. "You can't have them playing tight. They've got to relax and let their skills take over."
Henderson said the argument that led to his critical ejection in the eighth inning of Thursday night's loss to New York was over Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte's pickoff move. "I just went to talk to the man [umpire John Hirschbeck] about it," Henderson said. "I started walking back to the base and he started cussing at me. He got a little nasty." . . . The bullpens in Anaheim Stadium are under construction, and Collins is looking forward to their completion. "I'm tired of making pitching changes and wondering if the guy's going to make it into the game," he said. "They've got to go around one fence, through another. It's like a maze. I made a change the other night and one of the guy's asked me who was coming in. I said, 'I'm not sure, I think it's [Mike] Holtz.' "
ANGELS' JASON DICKSON (12-5, 3.84 ERA) vs. RED SOX'S AARON SELE (12-9, 5.81 ERA)
Anaheim Stadium, 1 p.m.
TV--Channel 11. Radio--KTZN (710).
* Update--Dickson was pressed into emergency duty Tuesday night after Chuck Finley's wrist injury and responded with 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 12-4 victory over the New York Yankees. In his three previous appearances, the rookie right-hander had given up 18 earned runs on 24 hits, including five home runs, in 13 innings. Darin Erstad has been taking a beating this week--the first baseman jammed his right wrist while applying a tag on New York's Derek Jeter after Dave Hollins' wild throw Wednesday night, and Friday night, Boston pitcher Bret Saberhagen's pickoff attempt drilled Erstad in the right elbow and caromed into the stands, allowing Tony Phillips to score in the first inning. Then in the second, Erstad crashed into pitcher Allen Watson on Darren Bragg's third-inning popup. Erstad, though, did not come out of either game.