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ANGEL NOTES

Their Best Trade Was One They Didn't Make

October 07, 2002|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers said yes. The Angels said no, a decision for which they give thanks daily.

In July, with the Dodgers and Angels in search of a hard-throwing reliever, the Cleveland Indians offered Paul Shuey, but only in exchange for two top prospects. The Dodgers said yes, and Shuey was theirs.

That proverb about the best trades being the ones not made? The role the Angels envisioned for Shuey now has been filled by wonder child Francisco Rodriguez, the newest hero in Anaheim.

Rodriguez, 20, got a standing ovation Saturday, an hour before the game against the Yankees started. As he walked down the left-field line, doing his rookie duty of carrying bubble gum and sunflower seeds from the clubhouse to the bullpen, the fans rose and cheered as he passed.

In three weeks in the major leagues, the records have come as easily as the strikeouts. In his first week, he tied Nolan Ryan's franchise record of eight consecutive strikeouts. In his first two playoff games, he was the winning pitcher, becoming the first player in major league history to record his first two victories in postseason play. He also joined Fernando Valenzuela as the only pitchers to earn two postseason victories before age 21; Valenzuela did it for the Dodgers' 1981 World Series champions.

Rodriguez pitched 5 2/3 innings in the Angels' first-round victory over the New York Yankees, more than any teammate except Jarrod Washburn, and his eight strikeouts led the staff.

During Rodriguez' stint at triple-A Salt Lake this summer, Edmonton coach Phil Roof, a former major league catcher, took a look at his combination of a 95-mph fastball and an 83-mph slider and told the Edmonton Sun, "He's got some of the best stuff coming out of the bullpen I've seen in 20 years."

The Angels fairly drool about Rodriguez setting up--and eventually replacing--closer Troy Percival. But Percival is signed through 2004, so there is no hurry for Rodriguez.

"He definitely has the ability to eventually become a closer--I think a dominant closer," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Right now, obviously, we have the leeway not to rush him. We have a pretty good closer ourselves."

That closer has an amazing record against the Minnesota Twins, the Angels' opponent in the league championship series. In 20 career games against the Twins, Percival hasn't given up an earned run.

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As the wild-card entry into the American League playoffs, the Angels are not allowed home-field advantage. So, although they had a better regular-season record than Minnesota, they must open the playoffs in the Metrodome.

The Angels will play at home Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday. A small number of tickets--single and obstructed-view seats--remain available, spokesman Tim Mead said.

If the Angels advance to the World Series, they will enjoy home-field advantage. In the World Series, home-field advantage is rotated between leagues, and this year that advantage belongs to the American League champion.

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The Angels deferred any announcement about their starting rotation for this series. Kevin Appier is scheduled to start Tuesday's opener. After Washburn struggled on three days' rest Saturday, the Angels are hesitant to try him on three days' rest again Wednesday.

They would have to think twice about starting the excitable Ramon Ortiz, who gave up the most home runs of any major league pitcher, in an extraordinarily loud domed stadium nicknamed the Homerdome. Rookie John Lackey also would be available, but the Angels also could consider adding veteran Aaron Sele to the roster. In his career against Minnesota, Sele is 15-3 with a 2.84 earned-run average.

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As the Angels whooped it up in Texas, celebrating after they clinched their first playoff berth in 16 years, Gary DiSarcina was sitting in a sociology class in Massachusetts. His cell phone kept vibrating, and he suddenly became concerned that an emergency had befallen his children.

His children were fine, and so were his old teammates. Darin Erstad had called, and so had Percival, and Tim Salmon. DiSarcina had toiled for the Angels for a decade before retiring this season, and the veterans wanted to make sure that their old shortstop and team leader could share in the celebration, at least via long distance.

"That's a pretty selfless act," DiSarcina said. "It was very appreciated."

DiSarcina, 34, returned to Edison Field Saturday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and Percival insisted on catching it. After the game, he joined the Angels in the clubhouse, getting champagne sprayed all over his shirt and slacks.

DiSarcina enjoys retirement, golfing, spending the summer with his family and finishing his degree at the University of Massachusetts. There were no bittersweet feelings, he said, about missing out on that elusive playoff berth.

"I always tried to imagine what the playoffs would be like here," he said. "The only thing I couldn't have imagined would be all this red. It reminds me of a football game and a tailgate party all in one.

"It's great to see all the excitement. I knew this city had it in them. We just didn't give them a good product."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Strikingly Good

A closer look at Angel rookie Francisco Rodriguez:

Age: 20.

Birthplace: Caracas, Venezuela.

Height, weight: 6-0, 165.

Major league debut: Sept. 18, 2002. Pitched a scoreless eighth, striking out two in a 7-4 loss to Oakland.

Signed: By Angel scout George Lauzerique.

Regular-season statistics: Pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up no runs and three hits and striking out 13.

Playoff statistics: Pitched 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts to lead the team.

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