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Angels lose, but keep up

They still have big lead in division after Texas' 4-3 win but don't want to change approach.

September 01, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

For the last couple of months, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia has buttoned his uniform jersey over a bright red T-shirt bearing the slogan "Stay Humble" in two languages.

The shirt is new, but the slogan is not.

"This is the second generation," Scioscia said. "We made 'em about three years ago. This was Juan Rivera's idea."

And clearly the message he wears over his heart is one Scioscia has also taken to heart. Because if any team in the majors could be excused for resting on its laurels heading into the final month of the season, it's the Angels.

Yet the manager won't permit it.

Even after Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Texas Rangers at Angel Stadium, Scioscia's club enters September with a 17-game advantage in the American League West. That's more than triple the size of the next-largest division lead in baseball.

And with a magic number of nine to clinch their fourth division crown in five years, the Angels could take the next three weeks off and still make the playoffs.

Yet Scioscia continues to talk as if the next game is the most important one of the season.

"It hasn't changed since we started. We need to look at that schedule, that game at hand," he said. "We're not playing to [the] level that we can, probably for the last 12 to 15 games. And we want to get that back.

"So that's our challenge: every day coming out here and keep moving in the right direction."

Well that's a challenge, certainly. But the challenge, if the Angels are to go deep into the postseason, is to get their starting lineup out of the trainer's room and on to the field. In the last 2 1/2 weeks, they have lost two shortstops and a second baseman to injury. And Sunday they were without center fielder Torii Hunter, who was a little woozy after banging his head against the wall twice over the weekend.

"We need to get healthy," agreed John Lackey, Sunday's starter. "We need to be at full strength when it comes playoff time, definitely."

Lackey knows a little something about getting healthy, having spent the first six weeks of the season on the disabled list. But he started slowly Sunday, with Josh Hamilton belting a first-inning solo homer and Marlon Byrd hitting a two-run second-inning blast to give Texas a 3-0 lead after six batters.

The Angels got a two-run homer from Rivera in the bottom of the second before the Rangers added what proved to be the winning run on Joaquin Arias' bases-loaded single to center in the fourth.

Texas starter Kevin Millwood, meanwhile, pitched brilliantly for six innings before running into trouble with two out in the seventh. That allowed the Angels to get close on Mark Teixeira's run-scoring single in the eighth, but Rangers reliever Frank Francisco stranded the tying run at second in each of the final two innings, ending the Angels' three-game winning streak and keeping the Rangers alive -- if only mathematically -- in the division race.

If you ask Scioscia, though, he'll tell you nothing's been decided yet.

"Any time you walk out there on the field, there's a pitcher that can beat you or a lineup that can beat you. So there's no looking at records," he said. "You've got to go out there and play baseball if you're going to win. And that's where our focus is going to be."

"The challenge," he repeated "is that game at hand."

And in case anyone loses that focus, he's got a bright T-shirt to remind them.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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Magic number

9Combination of Angels wins and Texas losses that will clinch the West.

H: home games;

R: road games

*--* AL WEST W L PCT GB H R ANGELS 83 53 610 -- 10 16 Texas 67 71 486 17 15 9 *--*

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