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Spiezio Fires Off Last Shot

Baseball: His two-out, three-run home run in the ninth inning gives Angels 5-4 victory over Tigers.

August 01, 2000|TIM BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

July concluded with the Angels on the brink of contention and having decided that the only thing standing between them and their first postseason appearance in 14 years was the acquisition of Ron Gant.

So Manager Mike Scioscia lined up his order of six potential 30-homer men, pointed it toward the Detroit Tigers, and waited.

And waited.

And blew on it.

And nudged it with his toe.

Nothing.

Until the ninth inning, when it sparked again. It does always seem to be there for the Angel hitters. Pinch-hitter Scott Spiezio's three-run home run off Tiger closer Todd Jones with two out in the ninth inning brought a 5-4 victory Monday night at Edison Field.

Angels danced onto the field as Spiezio's home run soared into the right-field bleachers, another blow struck for the Angels' unexpected appearance in this pennant race. They are five games behind the Seattle Mariners, leaders in American League West.

"It's a great feeling coming around third base," Spiezio said, "and seeing your teammates waiting at home for you."

Tim Salmon, who led off the four-run ninth with his 23rd home run, was among the first to reach Spiezio, who has three game-ending hits this season.

Spiezio hit a one-strike pitch from Jones for his 11th home run, and the Angels had their 15th victory in their final at-bat, more than a quarter of their 57 wins.

"I thought it was going to hit off the wall," he said. "I was going around first trying to coax it out."

Jones (0-2) had converted 29-of-30 save opportunities, but faltered in relief of starter Jeff Weaver.

"This team keeps coming," Scioscia said. "It's exciting to be around. These guys never feel they're out of a game."

The Angels had five hits, all singles, in eighth innings against Weaver, and two of them didn't leave the infield. Gant was hitless in three at-bats, including a bases-loaded strikeout that ended the fourth inning, a day after being traded from Philadelphia.

Gant did, however, draw a one-out walk in the ninth. Matt Walbeck's infield grounder forced Gant at second and Edgard Clemente pinch-ran for Walbeck. Garret Anderson was at third base when Spiezio batted for Benji Gil.

Accounts of the Angels' late-inning exploits had made their way to Philadelphia.

"To see it in person is awesome," Gant said. "I haven't seen a whole lot of that over the last three to four months.

"As soon as I walked in here, I could see this was a different atmosphere. You can see the confidence in the guys' faces. From what I've seen, we're not going to accept losing. Guys aren't just sitting here saying, 'Oh, well, we'll get them tomorrow.' We've got rally hats on. The monkey is on the screen. Everybody's cheering. It's great to be a part of this."

Well, not everybody. Only 16,797 showed up, and many of them departed with the 4-1 deficit.

"I don't know why we don't sell out every night," said left-hander Scott Schoeneweis, who started and gave up four runs in eight innings. "Every single night we have games like this."

Mark Petkovsek (4-2) pitched the ninth inning.

The Angels set aside their woes against left-handers for a day, only to find Weaver, a 6-foot-5 right-hander with a three-quarter delivery, as perplexing. The Simi Valley resident has two starts in Anaheim and has given up eight hits and one run in 15 innings.

He had home run help from Juan Gonzalez and Juan Encarnacion.

The Tigers held a 4-1 lead entering the ninth based on the power of the Juans.

Gonzalez hit the first pitch of the fourth inning into the bleachers in right-center field. It was a sinker that rose quickly over the infield and landed 407 feet from home plate. Encarnacion hit a two-run homer in the seventh.

That Gonzalez was in Manager Phil Garner's lineup six hours after the non-waiver trading deadline was somewhat curious. Gonzalez and his heavy bat were supposed to be headed to the middle of Seattle's order, an outcome that would have impacted the Angels for two months rather than three days.

Scioscia said he never really pondered Gonzalez's possible return to the American League West.

"I'm worried about our own house," he said. "I'll tell you what, I have enough confidence in this club to know they can play with anyone."

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