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Angels Win the Final Tuneup

They feel ready for season after 4-2 victory over Dodgers, who could win 90 games, Little says.

April 03, 2006|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

In the good old days, when UCLA played for the national basketball championship just about every spring, the Dodgers usually got to September with a chance to win, and the Angels got to September with a chance to see how many guys Nolan Ryan could strike out.

In the good new days, the Angels usually get to September with a chance to win, and we'll see about the Dodgers. The games start counting today, after the Angels beat the Dodgers, 4-2, in Sunday's Freeway Series finale.

The Angels open the season in Seattle, in a ballpark with a retractable roof. The Dodgers face the Atlanta Braves, with the possibility that the home opener could be rained out for the first time in Dodger Stadium history.

No longer do the Angels and their fans dread September. The Angels begin the season in search of their third consecutive division championship, a feat neither team has accomplished.

"This is a championship club," designated hitter Tim Salmon said. "You'd expect to be in the postseason with the kind of players we have."

The Dodgers, well, who knows? They won their division two seasons ago, lost 91 games last season and begin this season with a new general manager, a new manager and newcomers at first base, shortstop, third base and center field.

"I don't see anything that could keep us from being competitive in September," Manager Grady Little said.

First baseman Nomar Garciaparra, 32, finished the spring hitting .246, with three extra-base hits in 61 at-bats. Shortstop Rafael Furcal, 28, played Sunday after sitting out four days because of a strained back. Center fielder Kenny Lofton, 38, is starting the season on the disabled list because of a strained calf.

Catcher Dioner Navarro, 22, sat out two weeks because of a strained hamstring and had one hit in 27 at-bats (.037) this spring.

"We know we have the talent in the room to get the job done," Little said. "If they are able to stay on the field, we like our chances."

The San Diego Padres won the National League West with 82 victories last season, but Little said he isn't buying the conventional wisdom that the Dodgers can get into the playoffs with 85 or so victories.

Does he believe the Dodgers can win 90?

"Yes," he said.

In Sunday's game, Juan Rivera tagged Brett Tomko for a three-run homer hit "almost halfway back to L.A.," according to Little. Angel starter Ervin Santana recorded the victory despite walking four and hitting two batters in four innings.

They play for keeps today, counting on a red October and hoping for a blue one.

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