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Angels don't miss a trick, as usual

Figgins foils Seattle's tactic in 4-3 win that keeps them on pace for best record.

September 15, 2008|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Can't beat the Angels? Play like the Angels.

That didn't work for the Seattle Mariners, either.

The Mariners reached into Mike Scioscia's bag of tricks Sunday, deploying the five-man infield in the ninth inning. In a season in which so many things have gone right for the Angels and wrong for the Mariners, you can guess what happened.

With five infielders awaiting his ground ball, Chone Figgins hit a fly ball -- off the right-field wall, in fact -- for a walk-off single as the Angels completed a four-game sweep of the Mariners with a 4-3 victory at Angel Stadium.

The Angels won so giddily that starting pitcher Ervin Santana and first baseman Mark Teixeira left the ballpark with game balls, and yet neither played a role in the winning rally.

As the Angels dropped Seattle 34 1/2 games out of first place -- the Mariners finished 38 1/2 games behind in their expansion season -- the Angels took another step toward securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and toward their first 100-victory season.

The Angels need to finish 8-5 to reach 100 victories. They lead the home-field race by three games, with 13 to play. Their 92-57 record is the best in the major leagues.

"We'd love to finish with the best record," Teixeira said.

Teixeira hit his 30th home run of the season -- for the fifth consecutive year -- and 200th of his career.

It took him 35 at-bats to get from No. 199 to 200, but getting the ball he hit for No. 200 was easy. It cleared the center-field fence and landed near the rock pile, adjacent to the staging area for fireworks.

"The pyro guys got it," communications manager Larry Babcock said.

Santana had a ball in a Ziploc bag, the ball he used for his 200th strikeout this season. He said he would give the ball to his mother.

He got no decision, but he gave up two runs over seven innings, positioning himself toward the No. 2 spot in the Angels' playoff rotation, behind John Lackey.

Santana became the first Angels pitcher with 200 strikeouts since Chuck Finley in 1999 and the first Angels right-hander since Kirk McCaskill and Mike Witt in 1986.

A.J. Burnett of the Toronto Blue Jays leads the American League with 214 strikeouts, with Santana second at 200. Each pitcher is expected to make two more starts.

Neither Teixeira nor Santana figured in the winning inning. With one out in the ninth and the score tied, 3-3, Sean Rodriguez hit his first career triple, high off the outfield wall.

Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who climbed the wall in a futile attempt to catch the ball, almost certainly would have held Rodriguez to a double had he played the ball on the carom. But, with Rodriguez at third, the Mariners deployed a five-man infield. Scioscia, the Angels' manager, said he could not remember a team using that alignment against the Angels.

The Mariners vacated right field, with Suzuki playing between second base and shortstop.

"That was surprising," Figgins said. "I don't think Ichiro really wanted to become an infielder. He was coming in there kind of slow."

Figgins hit a fly ball off the right-field wall, Rodriguez scored, and the Angels are 4-0 since clinching the AL West. No coasting here.

"You never," Figgins said, "get tired of winning."


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