The Angels led by one run, the game reached the ninth inning, and the bullpen gate opened for . . . Rich DeLucia?
Another day, another injury for the Angels. During this pennant drive, when every game is a huge one, the Angels lost all-star closer Troy Percival for at least two games because of a sore right shoulder.
The Angels still won Saturday, a 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals, thanks to another strong start from Jack McDowell and a the finish from DeLucia, who did his best Percival imitation by striking outtwo of three batters for the save.
The Angels cheered too, along with an Edison Field crowd of 37,217, as the Texas Rangers lost to Minnesota. The Angels now lead the American League West by 2 1/2 games with 20 to play.
But the cheers were muted and the excitement contained by the news about Percival, which the Angels did not reveal until after the game. Percival did not undergo an MRI examination, according to Collins, so doctors do not consider the injury overly serious. But Collins will take no chances.
"We've got good arms in the bullpen," Collins said. "But, if we don't have Troy Percival . . . well, there's only one of him."
With two days of treatment and an off day Monday, doctors told Collins that Percival could return Tuesday against Minnesota. But, with the Angels scheduled to play the first of five games against Texas next week, Collins might hold Percival out of the two-game series with the Twins.
"If I don't have him against Minnesota, I don't have him against Minnesota," Collins said. "I can't afford to pitch him tonight and then not have him for 10 days."
After Friday's game, in which Percival gave up three hits in the ninth inning, he told coaches he struggled to get loose. Percival acknowledged he lost 5-6 mph on his fastball Friday, but he said he did not consider the injury serious.
"I took a day off," he said. "It just so happened it was a game with a save situation, so it got noticed. If you want to make a big deal about it, I guess you could make a big deal." In a season marked by battling back from adversity, McDowell may be the Angels' poster boy. He was out most of May, all of June and July, and much of August because of elbow trouble. And still, for bolstering what had developed into a patchwork starting rotation, he is one of the most valuable players in this pennant push.
In four starts since returning from the disabled list, McDowell is 3-1 with a 3.04 earned-run average. He held the Royals to one run over 6 2/3 innings Saturday and did not allow a runner past second base until the seventh inning.
"Rich came up big, as did Pep [Harris, who finished the seventh and worked the eighth]," Collins said.
"We have to tip our hat to Jack McDowell. It all starts with your starting pitching, and he was absolutely outstanding."
All this, and he says he still feels pain in his elbow virtually every time he reaches back for maximum velocity.
"He's tough as nails," General Manager Bill Bavasi said. "Right now, he's probably just going on instinct. He smells blood, and he's going after it."
Kansas City rookie Brian Barber provided a more than adequate challenge for the Angels. In the first three innings, in fact, the Angels went nine up, nine down.
With one out in the fourth inning, Randy Velarde singled, and Jim Edmonds doubled him to third. Tim Salmon struck out. Garret Anderson struck out too.
Pretty nifty escape there, Mr. Barber. How about an encore?
Chris Pritchett singled to start the fifth inning, and Matt Walbeck singled him to third.
Again, the Angels had a runner at third base.
And again, Barber played the strikeout card. Troy Glaus struck out for the first out.
So, in three at-bats with a runner at third base, the Angels had three strikeouts. Collins, unwilling to risk a fourth, ordered Gary DiSarcina to squeeze.
DiSarcina did so beautifully, with Pritchett scoring and DiSarcina pushing his bunt far enough past the mound to get a single. Gregg Jefferies, who had recorded his 1,500th career hit in the first inning, drove in a run with No. 1,501, a single that scored Walbeck and gave the Angels a 2-0 lead.