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Angels can't hold big lead

Seattle rallies from a four-run deficit for a 9-6 victory, putting a snag in L.A.'s quest for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

September 24, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- The Angels' quest for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs hit a little snag Tuesday night.

After the Tampa Bay Rays completed a doubleheader sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, the Angels blew a four-run, sixth-inning lead and lost to the Seattle Mariners, 9-6, in Safeco Field.

The Angels still hold the American League's best record at 97-60, but instead of a three-game advantage over the Rays, their closest pursers, the edge is two games with five to play.

The Angels will probably play the Boston Red Sox and have home-field advantage in the division series, but if they advance, they could play the Rays in the AL championship series.

Think home-field advantage isn't important? The Angels went 1-5 in Tropicana Field this season, and the Rays have the best home record (57-24) in baseball. They are 38-38 on the road.

"It became our next goal after we made the playoffs," Manager Mike Scioscia said of home-field advantage. "And we're going to have to earn it."

The Angels appeared well on their way to their sixth straight win Tuesday when Jered Weaver, who had a 2.80 earned-run average over his previous six starts, took a 6-2 lead into the sixth.

Though two runners were on base, the right-hander could have escaped the inning with no damage had he fielded Jeremy Reed's one-hopper cleanly.

But the ball nicked off Weaver's glove and caromed toward the vacated second-base hole, a play that was generously ruled a hit and allowed a run to score.

"It was one of those balls that looked like it was coming in hotter than it was," Weaver said. "It kind of slowed down on me and went off the tip of my glove. It was an easy comebacker, a double-play ball. I obviously should have made that play."

Wladimir Balentien followed with a drive to deep center field that Torii Hunter appeared to have a bead on, but the ball dropped just to his side for a run-scoring double.

Scioscia said it looked like Balentien's drive "took a left-hand turn." Hunter said he'd never seen a ball break like that.

"It was like there was a wind pocket, it hit a seam and dropped down and away," Hunter said. "But the ball was hit to me; I've got to catch it. It stinks. I've got to take it on the chin."

Weaver struck out Matt Tuiasosopo for the second out, but Kenji Johjima hit a two-run double to tie the score, 6-6.

Kevin Jepsen, who is pushing struggling veteran Justin Speier for a spot in the Angels' postseason bullpen, replaced Weaver and got out of the sixth.

But the rookie right-hander gave up a single, a walk and a one-out RBI single to Reed in the seventh before being replaced by Speier, who wasn't much better.

Shortstop Erick Aybar's error allowed Balentien to reach and a run to score. Tuiasosopo reached on a fielder's choice, and Johjima hit an RBI single to make it 9-6.

Mike Napoli provided the big early blow for the Angels, a towering three-run home run off the black batter's eye in center field to snap a 2-2 tie in the fourth.

Napoli's homer, which followed Howie Kendrick's single and a walk to Gary Matthews Jr., was his 19th of the season, which ranks fourth among major league catchers behind Atlanta's Brian McCann and the Chicago Cubs' Geovany Soto, who have 23 each, and Cleveland's Kelly Shoppach, who has 21 homers.

One difference: McCann has hit his 23 homers in 500 at-bats, Soto has 493 at-bats, and Shoppach has 344 at-bats.

Napoli, who splits time behind the plate with Jeff Mathis and missed a month from early July to early August because of an inflamed right shoulder, has hit 19 homers in just 216 at-bats.

Matthews also added a two-run home run to center in the second inning, his eighth of the season and first since June 11, a span of 175 at-bats.

Kendrick, making his second straight start after missing 23 games because of a strained left hamstring, had two singles in three at-bats and played five innings at second -- up from three innings Monday. He will probably take tonight off and return on Thursday.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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