OAKLAND — He would pitch today in Game 162 or Tuesday in Game 1, so Jarrod Washburn found a place on the bench at Network Associates Coliseum and awaited his fate, three hours and a minute of baseball uncertainty.
It was with some delight, then, that Washburn stood in puddles of cheap drink in the postgame clubhouse late Saturday afternoon, the Angels champions of the American League West for the first time in 18 seasons, Washburn saved from a second consecutive start on short rest, with their season riding on it.
The Angels beat the Oakland A's, 5-4, frolicked in the infield, hugged their owner and crossed the Bay Bridge on buses to celebrate again. On Tuesday, the Angels will play the Boston Red Sox at Angel Stadium or the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the opener of a best-of-five division series.
If they finish with a record equal to or better than the Minnesota Twins, they will open the playoffs in Anaheim. Otherwise, they'll fly tonight to New York and start there, where they began their 2002 World Series run.
The Twins have a suspended game against the Cleveland Indians to conclude today, one that should end by the first pitch here and perhaps free Manager Mike Scioscia from any difficult lineup decisions, then a second game. Aaron Sele will start today against the A's, giving everybody a few more hours' rest, nice after a four-week grind in which the Angels went from four games back to two up, from out to in.
So Washburn had his wish, they all did, and over the salsa music and between teammates dancing to it, he admitted it had been a long afternoon on the bench, one spent measuring preparation for today's start versus hope against it.
"I told the guys, 'I'm ready to pitch [Sunday], but, I'd much rather pitch on Tuesday,' " Washburn said.
Needing every bit of it, the Angels won seven of eight games to overtake and eliminate the A's. In doing so, they beat Oakland four consecutive times, finally on back-to-back, short-rest starts by Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar, on three eighth-inning runs on the last Saturday of the season. They won by rout and then by the scraped-together runs in a gripping eighth inning, Darin Erstad off the wall and Garret Anderson through the hole, playing well at the moment they wondered if they ever would again.
"Something happened in the last week," Erstad said.
Afterward, pitching coach Bud Black recounted the wins of the previous eight days, the taut games and long plane flights and hardly any rest between. They'd all prefer to win today, particularly if it is their only way into home-field advantage, but the regular season's heavy lifting was done and their eyes and moods said so.
"There's a momentum that the guys feel good about what's happening," Black said. "Hopefully, it's a good catapult into the playoffs. Winning today, it gives us a couple days to step back. Guys can catch their breaths. [Troy] Percival. Frankie [Rodriguez]. You know, the whole staff. The last six weeks have come with a lot of intensity in every game. You need to exhale."
They'd gotten seven innings on three days' rest from Colon on Friday night, then 5 1/3 on the same rest from Escobar on Saturday, and the pitch counts were rising on a staff that had only two days off since late August. Had he gotten the ball today, Washburn would have pitched for the third time in nine days and, as Black said, "It isn't so much the first time you pitch on three days' rest, it's the cumulative effect."
Instead, Washburn will begin his preparation for the Yankees, against whom he has not pitched since the 2002 division series, or the Red Sox. Scioscia said Saturday he would spend the coming days considering his postseason rotation. Washburn, Colon and Escobar are in, and presumably John Lackey is as well. They'll all be on normal rest again, thanks to Saturday's win and a lot of wins like it recently, of one last lunge that got them there.
"It's good," Scioscia said. "Because, right now, a lot of guys are gassed."
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Drive for the Flag
The Angels' eight-games-in-eight-days drive, resulting in seven victories and a move from three games behind Oakland to clinching the AL West championship on the Athletics' home field:
* Sept. 25 -- Won, 5-3, vs. Oakland. Run-scoring singles by Garret Anderson and Chone Figgins in the eighth snap a 3-3 tie.
* Sept. 26 -- Won, 6-2, vs. Oakland. Home runs by Troy Glaus and David Eckstein support the pitching of John Lackey.
* Monday -- Won, 5-3, at Texas. Rallying from a 3-1 deficit, the Angels take the lead when Figgins scores from third by beating a throw home on an infield grounder.
* Tuesday -- Won, 8-2, at Texas. Vladimir Guerrero hits two home runs and drives in five runs as the Angels move into a tie for first place.
* Wednesday -- Won, 8-7, at Texas. Curtis Pride's two-out double in the ninth knocks in the tying run, and Glaus' two-run home run in the 11th wins it.
* Thursday -- Lost, 6-3, at Texas. Despite two home runs by Guerrero, the Angels drop into a first-place tie with Oakland.
* Friday -- Won, 10-0, at Oakland. Bartolo Colon shuts down the Athletics for seven innings and Alfredo Amezaga clinches the victory with a grand slam.
* Saturday -- Won, 5-4, at Oakland. Darin Erstad's two-run double and Anderson's run-scoring single key a three-run eighth inning.