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Angels Finally Hit Bottom With Loss to Blue Jays

Defending champions are in last place in AL West after 7-1 setback.

May 04, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO — With the retractable roof closed above a half-empty stadium, the heckler's voice echoed all too clearly.

"How did you guys win the World Series?" the guy hollered.

Good question. The players are pretty much the same, but this year's Angels appear stuck in neutral, unable to synchronize good pitching with good hitting. On far too many days, this year's Angels get one or the other, but not both.

And this year's Angels are in last place. After Vernon Wells drove in five runs Saturday, with a four-hit afternoon that included a grand slam, the Angels tumbled to the bottom of the American League West. As the Toronto Blue Jays celebrated their 7-1 victory, the Angels renewed their vows to mount a spirited defense of their championship.

"It's just a matter of time," infielder Benji Gil said. "We have too good a team not to get going soon."

The Angels never fell into last place beyond the opening week of last season -- or of the previous season, when they finished 41 games out of first place and 27 games out of a playoff spot.

"Last year, we had stretches like this, and we were able to turn it around before things went too bad," shortstop David Eckstein said. "We just have to get on that page where everything clicks. We haven't had that yet. But this team is very good. When we're down, we know how to fight back. I definitely wouldn't count us out."

And utilityman Shawn Wooten said that "as bad as we've played," he couldn't help smiling upon peeking at the standings and discovering the Angels were only 5 1/2 games out of first place.

"I was pretty amazed," he said.

Last year, the Angels waited until May 9 to crawl above .500 for good. This year, they're 13-16. They've scored two runs in two games here, tipping their caps Friday to Toronto's Cory Lidle but muttering about losing Saturday to the undistinguished Doug Davis, who posted his first major league victory in exactly one year.

Eckstein, who homered for the Angels' lone run, evaluated his game as "horrible" for hitting three fly balls, even if one cleared the fence. He ripped himself for not bunting when Toronto third baseman Eric Hinske played him deep.

"It's all on me right now," Eckstein said. "My job is to get on base. I haven't been doing that."

The sentiment is noble, but the responsibility for defeat spread across the clubhouse. The Angels turned 12 runners into one run. They grounded into two double plays. With the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the sixth inning, Wooten said he struck out on ball four.

In the third, Eric Owens failed to get down a bunt, then grounded into a force play. Later in the inning, he tried to steal third base but badly misread Davis' move, leaving so soon Davis simply stepped off the mound and threw him out.

Still, as Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said, "If you're looking for reasons why we're a little bit under .500, I don't think you're going to look at the offensive side. It's pretty obvious everything is pointing toward our starting pitching."

Scot Shields delivered another solid spot start Saturday, holding the Blue Jays to two runs in 5 1/3 innings. He now returns to the bullpen, with the Angels hoping to solidify their rotation by activating Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele this week.

In one corner of the clubhouse, Wooten insisted the Angels have not buried themselves. It's still early, he said, defining not early as "when you're 15 games out and you have no hope."

In another corner, Eckstein said the Angels pretty much needed to win today's game. In that view, the defending World Series champions face a must-win game, in this first weekend of May.

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