CLEVELAND — Maybe Tim Salmon would have hit a game-tying, three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday. Maybe he would have struck out or popped up to end the game, stranding runners at first and second base.
We'll never know.
That's because Angel shortstop Craig Shipley, believe it or not, was picked off second base for the final out, ending an 8-5 loss to the Indians before 42,802 in Jacobs Field with a resounding thud.
Shipley's run meant nothing--it was Salmon who represented the tying run--but when Shipley wandered too far off the bag and was picked off by Indian closer Mike Jackson, the bat of the Angels' best hitter was rendered about as useful as a toothpick.
"There is no excuse for that," Angel Manager Terry Collins said. "None."
This was not a good first impression for Shipley, a veteran utility player who joined the Angels two days before the season opener, and he was in no mood to chat about it after the game. Truth is, Shipley probably wouldn't have minded if the ground had opened up at second and swallowed him whole.
"I shouldn't have been picked off," Shipley said. "That's all there is to say."
Collins answered several questions about the play, but just when it seemed he might jeopardize his policy of not criticizing players in the press, he put up the stop sign.
"Can we get off the play?" he said. "It's over. It was absolutely a huge mistake, especially with your No. 3 hitter up and a chance to tie the game, but [talking about it] is not going to change anything."
In the Cleveland clubhouse, where the Indians were enjoying their fifth consecutive win over the Angels this season, Manager Mike Hargrove was asked what he would have done had one of his players been picked off at second with the tying run at the plate to end a game.
"I'd probably still be sitting out on the bench, so I wouldn't go up and strangle him," Hargrove said.
Indian shortstop Omar Vizquel, who snuck behind Shipley and made the game-ending tag, could empathize with Shipley.
"The same thing happened to me once in winter ball," Vizquel said. "You never forget it."
The Angels can't wait to put the Indians in their distant memory. They are 5-0 against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox this season but 0-5 against Cleveland.
They hit four home runs Saturday--two by designated hitter Darin Erstad, one by Salmon and one by third baseman Frank Bolick, who was making his first major league start since Aug. 29, 1993.
But the homers all came with the bases empty, and they were not enough to offset an Indian attack that included Jim Thome's two-run homer in the third inning and Brian Giles' two-run homer in the sixth off Angel starter Jason Dickson, who gave up seven runs--six earned--and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
The Indians scored in six of the eight innings they batted, and every time the Angels took leads in the first three innings, Cleveland countered with a rally to tie the score or move ahead. When Giles' homer made it 7-3, Collins could sense a familiar, sinking feeling in the dugout.
"It was like there was a collective deep breath, guys saying, 'Geez, can't we stop these guys?' " Collins said. "Everyone knows they're a good team, but we've got to turn the intensity level up against them.
"We've got to grind it out, get a run back, move a runner over, take the extra base. . . . We have to attack both offensively and defensively, because that's the way you have to play against good teams."
And they can't make mistakes, like second baseman Norberto Martin's error that allowed Kenny Lofton to reach in the first inning. Lofton stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on David Justice's sacrifice fly.
"When you let Lofton on base you're saying, 'Why don't you just score?' " Collins said.
The Angels battled right up to the ninth, when Shipley walked and Erstad singled and Salmon stepped to the plate. But before Salmon even had a chance to look at a pitch, Jackson snuffed out Shipley, and the game was over.
"I don't think I've ever done something like that," Jackson said. "It's a funny way to save a game."
Unless you're Shipley.