OAKLAND — Chicago's Frank Thomas, Oakland's Jason Giambi and Toronto's Carlos Delgado appear to be the leading candidates for the American League most valuable player award, but Angel Manager Mike Scioscia made an impassioned plea for Darin Erstad after Wednesday's 9-7 loss to Oakland.
Erstad, the Angel left fielder, had four hits, including his 25th home run and 37th double, to increase his major league-leading hit total to 234.
He needs eight hits in the final four games to amass the highest single-season hit total in 70 years and move into ninth place on baseball's single-season hit list.
Erstad is batting .325 with 117 runs and 28 stolen bases, and his 99 runs batted in from the leadoff spot is a major league record, breaking Nomar Garciaparra's mark of 98, set in 1997.
"There are tremendous guys having tremendous seasons with huge impacts for their teams, and I'm not taking anything away from them," Scioscia said.
"But looking at where we'd be without Darin and the intensity he brings, his RBIs, his hits and runs, the number of runs he's saved defensively . . . I don't think there's a player in the league who has had more of an impact. I've seen a lot of names for MVP. To me, Erstad is at the top of the list."
Individual awards don't motivate Erstad, but he has taken satisfaction in making great strides since his awful 1999 season, when he hit .253 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs. Still, he never seems completely satisfied.
Asked if he has reached his full potential, Erstad, the top pick in the 1995 draft, said: "There's no question I'm getting better, but there's still a lot of things I can improve on. When I retire, there will be things I can improve on. That's the constant battle, the part of the game you love."
While some in the Oakland clubhouse grumbled about the substitute-filled lineups the Twins and White Sox used in losses to the wild card-contending Indians Monday and Tuesday, they were actually happy Scioscia didn't cut them any slack Wednesday.
Though the Angels were mathematically eliminated Tuesday night, Scioscia started all of his regulars except Bengie Molina Wednesday. And when Matt Walbeck was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the sixth, Scioscia sent Molina, who could probably use a few days off, in to catch.
Scioscia also moved Troy Glaus from third base to shortstop in the sixth and back to third in the eighth to keep his potent bat in the lineup, and he used front-line relievers Mike Holtz, Ben Weber and Shigetoshi Hasegawa.
The reason the A's didn't mind? The Angels close the season with three games against Seattle and need help from the Angels to win the West.
"They're tough, and we anticipate them giving Seattle all they can handle," Oakland Manager Art Howe said. "I know Scioscia is going to do everything he can to win those games."
(2-2, 8.64 ERA)
(14-11, 4.64 ERA)
Oakland Coliseum, 12:30 p.m.
Radio--KLAC (570), XPRS (1090).
* Update--Karl, the left-hander acquired from the Rockies in August and demoted to the bullpen after three shaky starts, has been lobbying for a start for weeks, and he'll finally get it today against baseball's hottest team. To have any chance of beating the A's, Karl will need better control than Angel pitchers showed in the last two games, when they combined to walk 19. Appier has a winning record despite walking a career-high 100 batters, the most walks by an A's pitcher since Mike Moore walked 103 in 1992. The veteran right-hander has won his last three starts.