Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak came to an end Sunday night. Mark McGwire had a home run taken away by . . . a fan? Seattle slugger Ken Griffey came up with two on and none out in the first inning against the Angels and--don't choke on your Wheaties--bunted!
And how's this for a really amazing story: The Angels, that same emaciated group that seemed primed for another September swoon just a few days ago, own a share of first place in the American League West after Sunday night's 3-1 victory over the Mariners before a sellout crowd of 42,972 in Edison Field.
Angel pitcher Omar Olivares wiggled out of enough tight spots to fill a James Bond flick; relievers Jarrod Washburn, Pep Harris and Troy Percival added three perfect innings, and the Angels squeezed every drop out of a five- hit attack, bunching four singles during a three-run third, to win their second straight game.
The Rangers, meanwhile, lost their second straight to Oakland Sunday, so after 155 games, absolutely nothing has been settled in the West. Tonight the Angels and Rangers, with identical 83-72 records, begin a crucial three-game series in Edison Field.
"I know it sounds like a broken record," said Tim Salmon, who had an RBI single in the third, "but how many times have people written us off, and how many times have we suffered a devastating injury, only to reel off a couple wins and get back in it?"
The Rangers, riding the momentum of a 6-5 come-from-behind win in Baltimore last Tuesday, swept a two-game series from the Angels, with Texas right-hander Todd Stottlemyre shutting down the Angels for eight innings in the opener, allowing one run on six hits.
Stottlemyre will oppose Angel knuckleballer Steve Sparks tonight, but the Angels feel much better about their chances because they believe they'll have a better read on Stottlemyre--last week was the first time many Angels had seen him in three or four years-- and they are simply playing better baseball. "There have been a lot of days when we've sat here and talked about scoreboard watching and worried about who the Rangers were playing," Manager Terry Collins said. "Now we have them in our yard, and it's in our hands. I wouldn't have it any other way. . . . If you put on a uniform, this is what you play for. Very few guys get a chance to be in this situation."
The Angels do because of third-inning singles by Gary DiSarcina and Orlando Palmeiro, a wild pitch, Randy Velarde's sacrifice fly, and RBI singles by Jim Edmonds and Salmon Sunday night.
And because Edmonds made his second superb catch in as many nights, diving to snag Shane Monahan's blooper to shallow left-center with two on to end the sixth.
And because Washburn, a rookie left-hander, minimized damage in the seventh, replacing Olivares with runners on second and third and none out and getting Griffey to hit a sacrifice fly, striking out Edgar Martinez and inducing Raul Ibanez to ground out.
And because Harris retired the side in order in the eighth, and Percival, pitching for the third consecutive night, struck out two of three in the ninth for his league-leading 42nd save.
And because Griffey, who has 53 home runs this season and a grand total of six sacrifice bunts in his 10-year career--one since 1991--decided to play little ball in the first.
David Bell singled and took third on Alex Rodriguez's double to open the game, and the Angels employed a modified infield shift against the left-handed Griffey, moving third baseman Troy Glaus well off the line and shifting DiSarcina, the shortstop, toward second.
It was as if the Angels were challenging Griffey to bunt, and the slugger did, popping out to catcher Matt Walbeck. Martinez singled to load the bases, but Olivares (9-8) struck out Ibanez and got Russ Davis to fly out.
"If he gets the bunt down, the bases are loaded and we're in trouble," Collins said. "But I know one thing, Griffey doesn't bunt much, and he can bunt on me any time he wants to. If he's going to beat me with bunts, I'll take it."