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American League

Angels Go to the Wall, Beat the Rangers, 6-3

April 07, 2002|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ARLINGTON, Texas — If you would have looked at Alex Rodriguez, you would have sworn he had just thrust a dagger into the hearts of the Angels. Rodriguez hit the ball toward the left-field bleachers, pumped a fist toward the sky, and started to celebrate his game-winning, game-ending grand slam.

But the ball never left the ballpark. Rodriguez slapped his hand against his helmet in frustration, the teammates that had sprinted onto the field to congratulate him shuffled back into the dugout, and the Angels collectively exhaled. On a dark and stormy night, the cold and damp air reduced what appeared to be a home run to a harmless fly ball to the warning track.

On the second day of life without All-Star closer Troy Percival, the Angels flirted with disaster. Ben Weber and Al Levine combined to walk four batters in the ninth inning before the Angels escaped with a 6-3 victory that reminded them how precious Percival can be, with his 100-mph fastball and nearly automatic saves.

"It's more exciting when he does it," Levine said. "I almost made everyone die in the dugout."

The drama of the last inning obscured the heroics of Troy Glaus, who hit two home runs and nearly hit a third, and Ramon Ortiz, who held the powerful Rangers to two runs over seven innings in his first start of the season.

Glaus' second home run, good for three runs, gave the Angels an apparently comfortable 6-2 lead in the top of the ninth. But Weber, who retired three consecutive batters in the eighth inning, then walked the bases loaded with two out in the ninth.

Levine relieved Weber and promptly walked Herbert Perry on four pitches, none of them close, to force home a run.

Up stepped Rodriguez, the man with the Texas-sized contract, who already had homered in the first inning. Ball one, strike one, two foul balls, another ball--and then a hanging slider, and a mighty-sounding fly ball.

"I thought it was gone," shortstop David Eckstein said.

"I thought he hit it out, no question," catcher Jorge Fabregas said.

"I thought the game was over," Levine said.

Well, it was.

"I mean, I thought it was a home run," he said. "I turned around to look at [left fielder] Garret [Anderson] and I was like, what is he doing? That ball is way out of here."

Anderson settled onto the track and waited calmly for the catch, and the final out.

"The ball's not flying in this park right now," he said.

Said Glaus: "If it's not cold and windy, maybe it goes. When it's 95 degrees here, the ball carries a little bit better than when it's 50, or 48, or whatever it was by the time it was over."

It was 52 at game time, and the rain ranged from drizzling to pouring for most of the evening. The Angels were mostly stumped by Hideki Irabu, starting in place of the injured Chan Ho Park on Chan Ho Park poster night at the Ballpark in Arlington.

But Glaus hit a home run off Irabu in the fourth inning and Orlando Palmeiro tagged reliever Steve Woodard for a two-run single in the sixth.

Glaus, rapidly replacing Tim Salmon as the Rangers' nemesis, has hit three home runs in the first two games of this series and 11 in the Angels' past 21 against Texas.

Glaus hit 47 home runs to win the American League home run championship two years ago. He hit 41 last year and won the preseason home run derby this year, so a 50-homer season is a reasonable proposition.

"It's never that easy," Salmon said. "Sometimes I'm amazed that the guy hits 50 home runs and they keep throwing him pitches."

Said Glaus: "They threw balls over the plate today, and I took advantage of them. When you're going bad, you don't take advantage of them."

Glaus has all three of the Angels' home runs this season. Of their 20 runs batted in, he has nine.

Who can cool him down? Perhaps only Bob Watson, baseball's dean of discipline, who suspended Glaus for two games for charging the mound after being hit in a spring training game. Glaus will serve the suspension today and Monday.

"He could very easily have hit three home runs [Saturday]," Texas Manager Jerry Narron said. "I'm just glad he can't play [today]."

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