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Playing Just for the Fun of It Not Bad Strategy for Angels

Baseball: Late-season distractions and pressure of pennant race are no longer evident in a 4-1 victory over Rangers.


ARLINGTON, Texas — The Fun Bunch, that band of baseball players formerly known as the Angels, completed a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers on Sunday with a 4-1 victory before 35,308 at The Ballpark in Arlington.

Gone is that August angst, when Tony Phillips' drug arrest and season-ending injuries to Chuck Finley and Todd Greene dominated clubhouse conversation.

And gone is the frustration that accompanied September's slide, when the Angels went from one game behind Seattle in the American League West to as many as six back.

The Angels are still five games behind with six games left, and it will take a miracle for them to make the playoffs--the Mariners can clinch at least a tie for the division title with a victory over Oakland tonight.

But at least the Angels seem to have recovered from their late-season nose dive, winning six of their last eight games and restoring that aggressive, carefree style that kept them in the pennant race all season.

They pounded out 15 hits Sunday, four by Garret Anderson and three by Chad Kreuter, and got outstanding pitching from starter Shigetoshi Hasegawa (one run, seven hits in five innings) and relievers Pep Harris (two hitless innings), Mike Holtz (one hitless inning) and Troy Percival (27th save).

And there was no scoreboard-watching, no fretting about not gaining ground on Seattle--since the Angels realized last week they have nothing to lose, all they have done is win.

"There's no reason to be tight and all nerved up now," Manager Terry Collins said. "All we can do is play hard and have some fun.

"We've talked all season about how much fun it is to play in September in a pennant race, and I think we lost sight of that. Everyone was pressing, we were losing and got real frustrated. I just told them to have some fun and finish with smiles on their faces."

One problem, though: There is a scraggly haired, 6-foot-10 left-hander with a 98-mph fastball, a vicious slider and a nasty scowl who would love nothing better than to wipe the smiles right off those Angel faces.

All weekend, the Angels' battle cry was: "We want those games in Seattle Tuesday and Wednesday to mean something." This brings to mind that old saying: "Be careful what you ask for. You might get it."

The Angels have not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but to keep their hopes alive they must beat Seattle ace Randy Johnson on Tuesday night in the Kingdome, where an ear-splitting crowd of more than 50,000 will be expecting to celebrate a second division title in three years.

Johnson is 18-4 with a 2.26 earned-run average and a league-leading 277 strikeouts, and opponents have hit .190 against him. He has a 12-5 career record and 2.76 ERA against the Angels, and he thoroughly dominated them in a one-game playoff for the division title in 1995, throwing a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts in a 9-1 Mariner victory.

"He was a monster that day," said Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who had an RBI double in the eighth inning Sunday. "Hopefully it will be different this time. . . .

"We have to prove to him we're not going to be intimidated, we're not going to roll over just because he's out there. But he has such an intimidating aura, you just have to scrap for everything you can."

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