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Valdes Is Off to Good Start, but Angels Lose

April 15, 2001|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ken Griffey Jr.? Gone.

Alex Rodriguez? Gone.

The pennant hopes of the Seattle Mariners? Still alive, thank you very much. Griffey didn't pitch, after all. Rodriguez didn't pitch. And the guys who do pitch for the Mariners have the best earned-run average of any American League staff that does not feature Pedro Martinez.

It's early, yes. But Griffey plays for a .500 team in Cincinnati, Rodriguez plays for a .500 team in Texas and the Mariners lead the AL West.

Freddy Garcia outdueled the Angels' Ismael Valdes Saturday night as the Mariners won, 2-1, before 34,780 at Edison Field. Garcia took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and he combined with three relievers on a two-hitter.

"They've got the best pitching staff they've ever had," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said.

The Angels had nothing to be embarrassed about in the pitching department. In his first start for the Angels, Valdes carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, commanding all four of his pitches with flair.

Valdes, whose cracked fingernail forced him to start the season on the disabled list, gave up two runs and four hits in six innings and gave every indication he can provide the quality innings the Angels are paying him $2.5 million to provide.

"He was a bulldog out there," catcher Jorge Fabregas said.

"That's the Rocket we remember from when he had his good years in L.A.," Scioscia said. "If he can maintain that, this guy's going to have a great year for us."

Garcia gave up one run and two hits over 7 2/3 innings before Seattle Manager Lou Piniella showed off his bullpen. Jeff Nelson got two outs, Arthur Rhodes got one and closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, who gave up a game-winning home run Friday, got Fabregas for the final out.

"The addition of Nelson, with Rhodes and Sasaki, gives them a solid bullpen," Scioscia said. "They've got a very good ballclub. No one is going to say, because A-Rod is not there, they're not going to be an outstanding club.

"They've got all the ingredients--solid starting pitching, a solid bullpen and a good everyday lineup. We think we can match up well with them."

The Mariners' 8-3 start is the best in franchise history. In the past five games, the Seattle starters have posted a 1.95 ERA.

Garcia no-hit the Angels through five innings, despite erratic control. In the sixth inning, just before Orlando Palmeiro singled for the Angels' first hit, Garcia had thrown 44 balls and 44 strikes.

With the Mariners up 2-0, David Eckstein drew a walk to start the sixth. After Darin Erstad flied out, Palmeiro singled, and Tim Salmon walked to load the bases.

A single could have tied the score, but neither Troy Glaus nor Garret Anderson could deliver. Glaus, the cleanup hitter, flailed at two breaking balls, then hit a sacrifice fly to score Eckstein. Anderson, who hit the game-winning home run Friday, grounded out.

While Garcia flirted with the strike zone, Valdes attacked it. Valdes pitched briskly and brilliantly, with results impressive for any pitcher and downright stunning for one who got torched last season and this spring.

In the first inning, Valdes retired the side on ground balls.

In the second, Valdes struck out the side.

In the third and fourth innings, Valdes got one foul out, two strikeouts and three ground balls to second base.

In the fifth, with two out, Carlos Guillen walked. Dan Wilson then ended the no-hitter with an infield single off the glove of third baseman Glaus, who dived across the foul line and slowed the ball but had no play.

David Bell then dropped a flare over the head of first baseman Wally Joyner and in front of right fielder Palmeiro, a weak hit but a hit nonetheless, a single that scored Guillen. Ichiro Suzuki then poked a ground ball between Glaus and shortstop Eckstein for a single that scored Wilson and gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead without benefit of anything resembling a solid hit.

John Olerud ripped a no-doubt-about-it hit off Valdes in the sixth inning, a double down the left field line. But the Mariners failed to score. Al Levine replaced Valdes and struck out five of the six batters he faced, with Troy Percival working a scoreless ninth.

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