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Angels Win, Look to Future

They beat the Tigers, 6-5, but the most significant development is a sign of their apparent interest in Japanese star shortstop Kazuo Matsui.

August 23, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — Nothing that happened here Friday, in a sluggish game between two teams going nowhere this season, could affect the future of the Angels as much as something that happened in Japan.

The Friday edition of a Japanese newspaper prominently featured a picture of Clay Daniel, the Angels' supervisor of international scouting, as he watched star shortstop Kazuo Matsui play for the Seibu Lions. Matsui, a free agent this fall, expects to sign with a major league team, and the Angels are definitely interested.

On this side of the Pacific Ocean, Troy Percival set a club record by converting his 20th consecutive save opportunity in a 6-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers.

The Angels extended their winning streak against the Tigers to 13 games, setting a franchise record for consecutive victories against an opponent.

On the other side of the Pacific, Daniel scouted a player who could be a prize catch on the field and a bridge between the Angels and the lucrative Japanese market.

General Manager Bill Stoneman spoke cautiously Friday, declining to confirm the Angels' interest in Matsui or even speak of him by name, since the Japanese season has not yet concluded and Matsui is not yet a free agent. Stoneman did say Daniel is not on a one-target scouting mission.

"There are a number of players he can take a look at," Stoneman said. "He's not just looking at one club or one player."

In an article that accompanied the photograph of Daniel, the newspaper Sankei Sports reported that the Angels were preparing a three-year, $17-million offer to Matsui. Stoneman denied that any offer had been prepared or authorized.

"That's not to say it can't happen at some point," he said.

Stoneman has pledged the Angels would be active in free agency. David Eckstein, who would lose his job as starting shortstop if the Angels acquired Matsui, has said he would endorse the Angels' pursuit of him. Eckstein, who toured Japan as part of a major league All-Star team last November, has described him as a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop with good power and good speed.

Matsui reportedly hopes to play on the West Coast, and the Mariners, Dodgers, A's and Padres all could be interested.

Percival has blown one save in 28 opportunities this season. One night after he walked four in a non-save situation -- the first time he has walked so many batters since July 19, 1998 -- he retired the Tigers in order to preserve Ramon Ortiz's 15th victory.

Adam Kennedy and Adam Riggs hit home runs for the Angels, for Riggs his third home run in four games.

Riggs, 30, at one time the Dodgers' second baseman of the future before injuries derailed his career, played at triple-A Albuquerque in 1999 for Angel Manager Mike Scioscia and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. In seven games with the Angels, he is hitting .364, with six of his eight hits for extra bases.

"This is the potential everybody saw when he was in the Dodger minor league system," Scioscia said.

Last year, he played for the Saltillo Sarape Makers of the Mexican League. So what would he have thought if he were told in April that he would be the Angels' starting first baseman in August?

"I would have told you that was crazy," he said, "especially on this team. Funny things happen."

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