To a man, the Angels insist they still are breathing in the American League wild-card race. The fans have decided otherwise.
On the day after Labor Day, as kids went back to school and parents went back to work, Edison Field had that "wait 'til next year" feel about it. In front of his family and friends from the San Fernando Valley and a few thousand others that stopped by, Kansas City Royal pitcher Jeff Suppan came within seven outs of a no-hitter and within one out of a shutout.
The Royals won, 4-1, before an announced crowd of 13,950, the smallest since Disney unveiled the renovated Edison Field in 1998 and the smallest in Anaheim since the Angels and Minnesota Twins played before 13,696 on Sept. 15, 1997.
The Angels lost for the sixth time in seven games, and what was a playoff race a week ago is now a race for a winning season. The Angels' deficit in the wild-card race is virtually insurmountable--111/2 games, with 24 to play--and their 70-68 record leaves them in jeopardy of a losing season.
"Sometimes you look at the wild-card standings and you start thinking, gosh, we've got to have a lot of things happen for us," outfielder Tim Salmon said. "We didn't make matters easier for ourselves. You've got to maintain your focus. You've got to come out playing like you're in it, until they say you're not. Until you're officially eliminated, you have to give yourself a chance.
"It's hard. We're down from the (1-5) road trip. We're human. The negativity starts setting in. You have to fight that. We've come this far. We don't want to lose sight of our goal."
The Angels did not get a hit, or come close to one, for the first six innings. Troy Glaus came closest, with a line drive to shortstop and a fly ball to the warning track in center field, but neither out required a spectacular play.
After two routine outs to start the seventh inning, Scott Spiezio punched a ground ball past a diving Joe Randa at third base--not a particularly hard hit, but the first hit nonetheless. Salmon then smoked a line drive into center field, hit so hard that Suppan need not lose any sleep over how many inches separated Randa from the ball hit by Spiezio.
"I knew I had a no-hitter," Suppan said. "If it was going to happen, it was going to happen. I wasn't going to pitch not to give up a hit.
"I can't complain. We won the game."
Suppan got the last out in the seventh, retired the Angels in order in the eighth and got the first two outs in the ninth. Glaus spoiled the shutout with his 37th home run of the season, one that skipped off the top of the left field fence and into the waves of empty seats.
Still, Suppan pitched a three-hit complete game, tying a career best. He walked one, struck out four and, with a fastball that barely cleared 90 mph. In 1993, the Boston Red Sox selected Suppan, then the top pitcher at Crespi High in Encino, in the second round of the draft. Suppan bounced from the Red Sox to the Diamondbacks, with plenty of triple-A time mixed in, before Arizona traded him to Kansas City for forgettable outfielder Jermaine Allensworth in 1998.
The Royals, about to complete their seventh consecutive losing season, afforded Suppan room to grow without him worrying that his next poor start would be his last.
He developed into a reliable major league starter--not a star, but a workhorse, one that won 10 games last season and 10 games the season before that. He gave up lots of hits and lots of home runs--no AL pitcher gave up more homers last year--but he pitched seven complete games and 425 innings over the two seasons.
"They've been very fair to me," he said. "They really gave me a chance to pitch."