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Angels seek the magic

A 3-2 win over Chicago pulls them within three wins of AL West title. Rodriguez saves 55th.

September 08, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- The Angels and closer Francisco Rodriguez haven't seen eye to eye in contract negotiations, but they are on common ground heading into tonight's series against the New York Yankees.

The magic number for both is three, for the Angels to win the American League West title and for Rodriguez to set baseball's single-season saves record.

Rodriguez nailed down the last three outs of the Angels' 3-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox in U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday for his 55th save, moving the right-hander within two of Bobby Thigpen's record, set in 1990 for the White Sox.

And the Angels took another step toward their fourth division championship in five years, riding Joe Saunders' strong start and Garret Anderson's tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to Sunday's win, which pushed their AL West lead to 17 games.

"That would be awesome," Rodriguez said when asked what it would be like to break Thigpen's record and clinch the division title in the same game.

The chances of such a daily double are remote, but if it's a foregone conclusion that the Angels will soon spray champagne on each other, it seems inevitable that Rodriguez will set the record.

"I hope I do it as quickly as possible," said Rodriguez, who struck out Nick Swisher looking at a changeup with a runner on second base to end Sunday's game. "I feel like I have 10,000 pounds on my shoulders. I would love to relieve that pressure."

The heavy workload on the field -- Rodriguez has pitched in 67 games -- and the increased media demands and attention off the field have put a strain on the 26-year-old Venezuelan.

"It takes a lot out of you," he said. "It's been a lot of work this year. More people have their eye on me, and there's pressure from my family and my country to do it. But I can't forget our first goal, to win games and go to the playoffs."

The Angels are on the verge of achieving that goal thanks in large part to Rodriguez, who has converted 55 of 61 save opportunities and bounced back Sunday from his sixth blown save of the season Saturday night.

"That page was turned by the time he got in the shower [Saturday] night," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Of all the closers I've seen, he might be the best at turning the page. That page gets heavy for closers; it can feel like cement. But he's come back time after time and has been terrific."

The Angels gave Rodriguez a chance for redemption by breaking a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning, which Gary Matthews Jr. (single) and Mark Teixeira (double) opened with hits.

Vladimir Guerrero grounded out to third base, the runners holding, and Torii Hunter was walked intentionally to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Anderson lifted a fly ball to deep right field that drifted into foul territory.

Chicago right fielder Jermaine Dye could have let the ball drop, extending Anderson's at-bat, but he chose to make the catch in front of the railing. Matthews tagged and scored easily for a 3-2 lead.

Scioscia and Anderson thought Dye made the right play.

"In this park you can hit the ball out any time," Anderson said. "If it was the ninth inning, no question, you let it drop, but there's not a lot of foul territory here. It's hard to know exactly where you're at."

Dye said he "would have let the ball drop if I definitely knew it was foul, but it was hard to tell."

Jose Arredondo retired two to end the bottom of the eighth, and Rodriguez's work in the ninth preserved the victory for Saunders, who had been stuck on 14 wins for six starts.

The left-hander gave up two runs and four hits, including solo home runs by Paul Konerko in the fourth and Toby Hall in the fifth, in 7 1/3 innings to improve to 15-7.

The Angels rallied for two runs in the sixth inning to tie the score, as Teixeira doubled, took third on Guerrero's single and scored on Hunter's double to right-center field, one of only two hits the Angels got in 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Guerrero scored on Juan Rivera's slow roller to third to make it 2-2.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

55 and counting

The top single-season saves leaders:

*--* Name, Team Year No. Bobby Thigpen, Chicago (AL) 1990 57 Eric Gagne, Dodgers 2003 55 John Smoltz, Atlanta 2002 55 Francisco Rodriguez, Angels 2008 55 Trevor Hoffman, San Diego 1998 53 Randy Myers, Chicago (NL) 1993 53 Mariano Rivera, N.Y. (AL) 2004 53 *--*

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