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For Angels, It's Gloom Before June

Defending World Series champions lose to Devil Rays, 8-6, and fall season-high 91/2 games out of first.

May 31, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — June comes tomorrow, with a bummer of a summer looming for the Angels.

"We better figure it out pretty quick," pitcher Jarrod Washburn said, "before it's too late."

The story of how the Angels won the World Series last year is increasingly irrelevant. The Angels got off to a slow start and won last year, so why not again this year? History says they can, right?

Actually, no. On this last day of May, historical perspective is not kind. After Friday's 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in which the Angels got six hits and 22-year-old Dewon Brazelton got his first major league victory, the Angels dropped a season-high 9 1/2 games out of first place.

On the final day of May last year, the Angels concluded a month in which they went 19-7 and closed within three games of first place. This May, they're 12-13.

"We're not playing anywhere near the level we finished last season at, and it's obvious to every guy in this room," Washburn said. "We're nowhere close.

"It's not really a young season anymore. We've got to turn it around quick. The two teams ahead of us are awful good teams, and they're not going to fall on their faces."

The last time the Angels played here, last September, they swept a three-game series by a combined score of 24-5. In splitting the first two games of this series, they have been outscored, 9-8.

The Devil Rays are better, but not that much better.

"At that point last year, we were playing well against everybody," second baseman Adam Kennedy said. "Right now, we're not playing that well against anybody."

The Angels did not embarrass themselves Friday. Troy Glaus slid hard to break up two double plays. Brad Fullmer hustled to beat a relay throw so the Angels could score a run. Jeff DaVanon tagged from first base to second on a fly ball to left field. Tim Salmon legged out an infield single, made a nice play in right field and passed Brian Downing to become the franchise leader in runs scored.

John Lackey struck out the side in the first inning and finished with a season-high seven strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Kennedy hit a home run, the Angels' first in 38 innings.

The Angels, down, 8-4, after seven innings, rallied for single runs in the eighth and ninth, even putting the tying run on base in the ninth.

They played hard. They did not quit. But they also did not win, again.

They could console themselves, perhaps, with the thought that the Devil Rays went ahead for good in the sixth inning with three runs off Lackey -- two scoring on a flare that dropped into center field and another on a soft-serve volley back up the middle. Lackey, who gave up five runs and eight hits, certainly did not feel the Devil Rays roughed him up.

"I think that's an understatement," he said. "I think they hit two balls hard.... Nine times out of 10, I win that game with the stuff I had."

The Angels won last year with a relentless offense. No one player carries the offense to success, but all must contribute.

David Eckstein, the leadoff hitter, is hitting .190 in his last 15 games and has failed to score in 10 of them. Salmon is hitting .120 in his last eight games, Fullmer .118 in his last 11, Glaus .222 in his last eight, Kennedy .206 in his last 10.

Even Garret Anderson, the anchor in the lineup, is hitting .143 in his last nine games. His average has not fallen below .300 since opening day, but he's at .301 today.

"Garret spoils us because he's so consistent," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Very rarely does he have prolonged droughts. We're in one now."

Said Anderson: "You know my attitude toward that. Come talk to me in September. We won't have this talk."

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