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Angels bring it home

They beat Texas, 7-3, and secure home-field advantage for first round. Rodriguez saves No. 60.

September 21, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Angels crossed another item off their "to-do" list Saturday, clinching home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs when the Chicago White Sox lost to the Kansas City Royals.

And just to make sure that stuck, a few hours later the American League West champions rolled to a 7-3 win over the Texas Rangers, with Francisco Rodriguez getting the final out to earn his 60th save of the season.

Add it all up and it means the Angels will open the postseason in Anaheim on Oct. 1 or Oct. 2 by playing host to the wild-card winner, probably the Boston Red Sox or Tampa Bay Rays.

So now the next order of business is to get healthy. And progress on that front was mixed Saturday, with Howie Kendrick moving a giant step closer toward his return from a strained hamstring while a kidney stone left All-Star left-hander Joe Saunders uncertain for his next start.

"The things we're seeing right now have been little nicks that we anticipate being able to absorb," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're going to just keep moving on."

Kendrick felt good after three sprints from first base to third base and said he could be back in the lineup as early as Monday in Seattle. And if not Monday, perhaps Tuesday, when Saunders is scheduled to start.

Scioscia, however, said Saunders was "a little bit in question" after he was taken to a Dallas-area hospital Friday night, where doctors said he was passing a kidney stone.

But given the possible alternatives -- the Angels originally feared Saunders might be having an appendicitis when he doubled over in pain after Friday's game -- having Saunders sit out only one start qualifies as good news.

"We'll see how he comes out of it," Scioscia said of Saunders, who spent most of Saturday night at the team hotel. "It could have been a lot of things. We're certainly relieved."

The Angels were also relieved at seeing Vladimir Guerrero play for the first time in more than a week. Guerrero, bothered by irritation in his right knee, played 5 1/2 innings in right field, hitting a double and walking in three plate appearances.

Next to return could be third baseman Chone Figgins (bruised elbow) followed by outfielder Juan Rivera (sore right hip). Figgins, who has played once in the field since taking a pitch off his elbow Sept. 8, is still having trouble throwing and Rivera, sidelined for a week, ran only lightly Saturday.

Surprisingly, however, the Angels have been managing just fine without them. With Garret Anderson collecting three hits, including a home run, and driving in three runs, the Angels won Saturday for the third consecutive day and for the 10th time in 13 games.

Erick Aybar, playing in only his second full game since straining his left hamstring three weeks ago, chipped in with a single and a double, and scored three times.

And when it was over, the Angels had 95 wins, improving the odds that they'll finish the season with the American League's best record and secure home-field advantage not only for the first round but throughout the postseason.

The Angels head into the final week of the season with three more wins than Tampa Bay and five more than Boston. And home-field advantage could be key in the playoffs since Tampa Bay, Boston and Chicago, the probable Central Division champion, have the best home records in the AL, yet all are under .500 on the road.

"It certainly has importance," said Scioscia, whose team is also five wins away from the first 100-victory season in franchise history. "We have at least reached one step of what our total goal was for the season.

"We're finishing up here with eight more games and we have an opportunity to accomplish everything in a regular season that can be accomplished. And that's important to us."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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