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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

After 100th win, Angels start over

They set a franchise record by winning the finale, but that won't help them against the Red Sox.

September 29, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

The final regular-season game of Mike Scioscia's ninth year with the Angels earned him a couple of mementos: two soiled, game-used baseballs with the number "100" written on them in black ink.

With Sunday's 7-0 victory over the Texas Rangers, Scioscia became the first manager in the franchise's 48-year history to guide a team to 100 wins, and the first manager to guide any major league team to that many victories since 2005.

"That's what we were searching for," outfielder Torii Hunter said. "It's a little comforting that you can get that 100th win. It's positive. We're happy about that."

Scioscia, however, would like one more souvenir to remember the season by -- a World Series ring. He and his team begin pursuit of that Wednesday night when they send right-hander John Lackey to the mound against the Boston Red Sox in the opener of their American League division series.

And those 100 wins won't mean anything then, Scioscia said.

"I don't think anything that has happened in the regular season is going to affect what these playoffs are about," he said. "This is about getting there and executing pitches if you're a pitcher, making plays on the defensive side and [having] good at-bats."

The Angels did all that and more Sunday. And that should count for something come Wednesday, Hunter said.

"We've got something to build off of going into the postseason. That's big," said Hunter, who made four playoff appearances with the Minnesota Twins yet got past the first round only once.

The Angels have also made early exits from the playoffs three times since winning the World Series in 2002, losing their last seven postseason games. But Scioscia said none of those teams could do what this year's club has done. And he wasn't talking about 100 wins.

"This year we've got the deepest lineup we've had here," he said. "Our expectations are to go out there and play much better than we did the last couple of times we had opportunities to get in the playoffs.

"We're where we need to be. Some guys that were banged up are in the lineup. Our pitching is reset. We like our team. We like where we are. And we're ready for Wednesday."

Left-hander Joe Saunders, who missed his last start while dealing with a kidney stone, certainly showed he's ready for the postseason, holding the Rangers to two hits in six shutout innings while striking out a career-high nine batters. That also gave Saunders (17-7) wins in his last three decisions and ran his scoreless-inning streak to 15.

"Obviously it's a confidence booster," said Saunders, who was sixth in the AL in wins and ERA (3.41). "I don't want to go into the playoffs giving up some runs. I think this is a great outing for me and a great outing for the team."

Not to mention for catcher Mike Napoli, who had a homer and a pair of doubles, driving in four runs. Over his last eight games Napoli is batting .667 with four homers and 11 RBIs.

"You can't ask for anything more," said Napoli, who finished the regular season hitting .273 with 20 homers and 49 RBIs -- all career bests -- despite batting only .204 before the All-Star break. "I'm just going to try to keep it going."

As will the rest of the Angels come Wednesday.

"Once the postseason starts, it's another level," Hunter said. "The regular season's over with. It's like a fresh start. Everything's better."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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