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The Inside Track | J.A. Adande

Angels Rolling, or Just Spinning Their Wheels?

August 28, 2004|J.A. Adande

At this point it looks like a toss-up as to which will come to Anaheim first: that long-awaited sign that this is the Angels' season, or an NFL team.

"There's still hope," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said Friday.

He was talking about the NFL, not the Angels. He went on and on about how he used to come to Ram games at Anaheim Stadium when he played for the Dodgers and how owner Peter O'Malley wanted to build a football stadium in Chavez Ravine. The topic came up because the NFL, in all its infinite greed, has invited Anaheim to join the Coliseum, the Rose Bowl and the city of Carson in the quest for a franchise. If Scioscia sees hope in this blatant attempt to pit city against city and money against money, he really is an optimist.

He must be, because he isn't discouraged one bit by what has been the most uplifting and frustrating stretch of 2004 for the Angels.

Friday night's 9-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium gave the Angels a nine-game winning streak and 11 victories in 12 games. And what do they have to show for it? They've gained half a game on division-leading Oakland in the American League West standings.

Yes, they're still down one game.

They can't even lay claim to the AL wild-card lead, as the Boston Red Sox are half a game ahead of them.

The last two weeks have amounted to one long treadmill session.

And that's the downside for the Angels. If they can't take control when they're practically unbeatable -- whether it's the Kansas City Royals' insisting on giving them games or the Angels going into Yankee Stadium and taking three from New York -- what's going to happen when the losses inevitably come?

And what if they come at the costliest time? The Angels face the A's six times in the last 10 days of the season, including a three-game set in Oakland on the final weekend.

Where some might see danger, Scioscia sees opportunity.

"You think about it, our destiny's in our own hands," Scioscia said, completely unfazed by another night of running in place. "If we play well and we bring our game to the park every night, we're going to have a chance to reach our goal. That's where our focus is. There's no frustration here about worrying about where the standings are."

Of course Scioscia still believes in his team. And he's the one who taught the Angels to think in championship terms after he arrived in 1999. Now that they've won a World Series, his players know the winning signs when they see them.

"When we won in 2002, there was a sense of magic," Tim Salmon told The Times' Mike DiGiovanna recently. "I thought we were starting to see some of that in Kansas City [two weeks ago], where we're winning some games we have no business winning. Little things start happening: 'Oh, that ball got through.' 'Oh, how'd we get out of that jam?'

"You're looking for those signs, like destiny."

Normally you'd prefer those signs to appear before the back-to-school sales kick in.

Early in the season the signs were all bad.

We could detail the injuries and missed games by Brendan Donnelly, Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus, Darin Erstad, Tim Salmon, Troy Percival, Jarrod Washburn, etc., or cut to the chase: The Angels have had their projected lineup on the field for one game.

Not that all of the players on the field did their jobs. Bartolo Colon, brought in to be the staff ace at a price of $51 million, had a 6.38 earned-run average in the first half of the season.

But thanks in large part to Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen, the Angels stayed in the race until everyone else either rounded into shape or into form.

Now the Angels have hit their stride, scoring an average of 8.6 runs during the winning streak. Colon's pitching well. There's even hope that the G-Unit could be back in full force, with Glaus rehabilitating in the minors with a chance of joining Guerrero, Guillen and Anderson in the heart of the Angel lineup.

If the winning streak hasn't done much for them in the standings, at least it bolstered their confidence. Anderson said the good teams go into every game and series thinking: "We're going to win this."

"You've got to develop that attitude," Anderson said. "I don't think that's been there on a daily basis."

Now he sees indications that the belief is taking hold in the clubhouse, that the group realizes that even in this less-than-complete state it's strong enough to do some damage.

Friday night held a little bit of everything for the Angels. Power, with home runs by Adam Kennedy and Anderson as the Angels pounded Brad Radke for 15 hits and all nine runs. A solid night for starting pitcher Aaron Sele (six innings, two earned runs). Even some good fortune, when Twin left fielder Shannon Stewart began jogging in after catching the second out of the sixth inning, allowing Kennedy to tag up and score from second.

But, ultimately, all they did was hold ground.

So, um, when's that NFL stadium groundbreaking?

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Adande, go to latimes.com/adande.

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