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Angels know how to rally

Simply obeying their marching orders has them flirting with first place.

July 12, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

Amid swirling fountains, sweaty drinks and the scent of sunblock, Saturday afternoons at Angel Stadium are like a lovely picnic.

Only here, they cheer the ants.

Here, they cheer the little red ants who scamper up legs and crawl down shirts and poke under skin.

They cheer them not because they are pretty, but because they are relentless. They cheer them not because they are stars, but because they swarm, over and over, raising itches, ruining lunches.

It happened again Saturday when the injury-riddled Angels dared to field a spring training lineup in the second week of July.

And once again beat the New York Yankees as if it were October.

For the second time in two games, a bunch of kids bearing broom handles and bravado overcame a four-run deficit to score double digits and beat the highest-scoring team in baseball.

The final score was 14-8, after which there were fireworks in the sky and a dancing monkey on the scoreboard, all for a bunch of selfless, faceless player shaking hands in the middle of the field, those ants.

"It's something that's talked about around here from the first day of spring training," said Brandon Wood, who showed up Friday and homered Saturday. "It's Angel baseball."

For the last decade under Mike Scioscia, "Angel baseball" has often been this refreshing and rewarding but never has it been this resilient.

This may not end up being their best season, but it has already been their most admirable, as they flirt with first place despite struggling through the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart and the much more trivial concerns of a constantly battered lineup.

"We just go play baseball," said Scioscia, simple words, sweeping mandate.

Saturday's win was the fourth time in this homestand -- nine games and counting -- that the Angels have won after overcoming a four-run deficit, the first time that has happened here.

It was also the Angels' major-league leading 26th comeback win this season, making their resilience official and historic.

"They get after it hard," Scioscia said.

Especially when it gets after them hard, as with the recent injuries that, on Saturday, gutted them of power hitters Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Juan Rivera.

So who played? Robb Quinlan made his third start in left field. Wood made his third start at third base. Chone Figgins played DH for the second time this year. And Gary Matthews Jr. was starting in center field for the 13th time.

"Tony has paid a lot of attention to our depth," said Scioscia of Angels General Manager Tony Reagins, "and it's worked well for us now."

Um, sorry fellas, you're not that deep. Nobody is that deep. This was not a 14-run lineup. This was not a consecutive-win lineup. This was not a bomb-the-Bombers lineup. Was it?

On a sweltering afternoon, it began as a hot mess, the Angels going hitless for three innings against the Yankees' Andy Pettitte, with Alex Rodriguez and Eric Hinske -- Eric Hinske? -- homering against Jered Weaver to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead.

The Angels had them right where they wanted them.

"This group knows how to play the game," said hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, who deserves much credit for turning this group into baseball's best hitters.

"They know it's not about one pitch, or one at-bat, or one game. They know how to grind."

They know, because their teacher was once that sort of player, Hatcher passing along knowledge gained from years on a tightrope.

"I know what it's like to have to fight for your job, because I've done that," Hatcher said. "I know what it's like to be down, how to handle all that, only because I've been there."

After the Angels closed the gap with a run in the fourth, they used "Angel baseball" and put together the best offensive inning I have seen this season. It was a seven-run fifth inning that featured so many furious legs and arms, it felt like one long Lakers fastbreak.

"It was a lot of guys picking it up," Wood said. "It is how we play."

Seven runs, seven hits, five singles, five hits going to the opposite field.

Figgins and Erick Aybar went from first to third on a single. Bobby Abreu scored from first on a double. The kid Wood hit his first home run of the season. The old guy Matthews stole his first base of the season.

It was exhausting to watch. It was worse, apparently, to defend. During the inning, counting throws to first base, the Yankees' pitchers tossed the ball 44 times.

"Like any team with a lot of speed up and down the lineup, we try to put a little bit of pressure on them," Scioscia said.

Pressure? This was like a 30-minute headlock. It wore out the Yankees and rejuvenated the ants.

"Sitting over there watching our guys do their work was pretty fun," Weaver said. "A lot of players can do so many things with the bat and on the bases."

Weaver returned refreshed to the mound with an 8-4 lead and struck out two of the next three batters before leaving the game with an eventual new title:

Best player not to make the All-Star game.

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