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Angels are done in by the unknown

They are held in check in 7-1 loss by the Yankees' Aceves, a rookie pitcher they had never faced.

September 10, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston's top two starting pitchers, don't really scare the Angels, who have defeated both this season.

Neither do Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir or Matt Garza, Chicago's Mark Buehrle or Gavin Floyd, or Minnesota's Scott Baker or Francisco Liriano.

If there is one fear the Angels might have entering the playoffs, it is of the unknown, but unless the Red Sox, Rays, White Sox or Twins plan to have a pitcher make his first big league start this October, the Angels should be OK.

The New York Yankees exposed the Angels' Achilles' tendon again Tuesday night in a 7-1 victory that, combined with Texas' win over Seattle, kept the Angels' magic number to clinch the American League West title to two.

Alfredo Aceves, a 25-year-old right-hander who spent the previous six years in the Mexican League and began 2008 at Class-A Tampa, held the Angels to one run and five hits in seven innings, striking out two and walking none for his first career victory.

For Aceves, who wears No. 91 because of his affection for former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman, it was his first big league start and third appearance.

"You can scout as much as you want," Manager Mike Scioscia said, "but until you get in that batter's box and get a look at a guy, it's tough to get an idea what his ball is actually going to do."

The Angels have faced four other starters making their big league debuts this season, Boston's Justin Masterson on April 24, Atlanta's Charlie Morton on June 14, Texas' Matt Harrison on July 8 and Baltimore's Chris Waters on Aug. 5.

That quartet combined to go 3-0 with a no-decision and a 2.00 earned-run average against the Angels. Add Aceves' gem to the mix, and the neophytes are a combined 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA against the Angels.

"The only thing you can really canvass it against is the fact that a pitcher has a little advantage when hitters haven't seen him," Scioscia said. "I don't think he did anything to surprise us. He made pitches, got ahead in the count and put us away."

Adding injury to insult, Angels center fielder Torii Hunter left the game after five innings because of a tight left quadriceps and was listed as day to day. His loss was felt immediately.

With a 1-0 lead, Derek Jeter, whose 2,519th hit, a single in the first inning, moved him past Babe Ruth and into second place on the Yankees' all-time hit list, opened the sixth with a fly ball to right-center field that Gary Matthews Jr., Hunter's replacement, dropped for a three-base error.

Starter Ervin Santana walked Bobby Abreu, and Alex Rodriguez, who singled to cap a 13-pitch at-bat against Santana in the second inning, drove a three-run home run to right-center field, his 33rd, for a 4-0 lead.

The Angels scored in the sixth when Garret Anderson singled, took third on Mark Teixeira's double to right-center field and came home on Vladimir Guerrero's groundout to short.

But the Yankees padded their lead when Johnny Damon hit a two-run home run to right-center field against Santana in the seventh inning and a solo drive against Justin Speier in the ninth.

Damon's seventh-inning home run knocked out Santana, who gave up six runs -- five earned -- and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings, his worst start in six weeks. The right-hander was 4-0 with a 2.31 ERA in his previous seven starts.

Santana said Rodriguez's second-inning at-bat, which included eight foul balls, "didn't take anything out of me," but Scioscia wasn't so sure.

"Alex fouled off some really tough pitches," Scioscia said. "He was locked in and got a hit. I don't know how much it took out of Ervin, but it was certainly one of the best at-bats we've seen in a while."

As for Hunter, Scioscia doesn't think his injury is serious.

"It tightened up a little on him," Scioscia said.


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