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Angels' season-ending sweep injects sense of optimism

Angels make it three straight over A's, winning regular-season finale, 5-3, behind Joe Saunders, who has pitched brilliantly since having a cortisone shot in August.

October 05, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

OAKLAND — Joe Saunders called the decision to shut himself down and receive a cortisone injection in his sore shoulder in early August "one of the best I've made in my career," and the evidence was on display again Sunday in the Oakland Coliseum.

The Angels left-hander allowed two runs and six hits in five innings of a 5-3 victory over the Athletics in the regular-season finale, giving Saunders a 7-0 record and 2.55 earned-run average in eight starts since coming off the disabled list.

"I was hurting the team in June and July," said Saunders, who closed the season with a 16-7 record and 4.60 ERA and tied Jered Weaver for the team lead in wins. "I wanted to come back strong and show the team what I can do."

Reliever Jason Bulger can only hope his decision to follow the same path will generate similar results.

After consulting with Oakland's team physician, the right-hander decided to receive a cortisone injection in the front of his shoulder Sunday after being pulled from Saturday's game in the eighth inning because of tightness.

Bulger is 6-1 with a 3.56 ERA in 64 appearances and has filled an important late-inning role that could be integral to the Angels' chances of defeating the Boston Red Sox in the American League division series, which begins Wednesday or Thursday in Anaheim.

"The doctor thinks this will make me more ready to pitch in the first [playoff] game," said Bulger, who received an injection in the back of his right shoulder in late August. "That's why we did it. It's definitely a very effective medicine to put into your body."

If Bulger is not ready for the first round, he will be replaced on the roster by Sean O'Sullivan or Jose Arredondo, and Ervin Santana, who is moving from the rotation to the bullpen for the first round, would assume a more prominent relief role.

Santana looked good in his first relief appearance of the season Sunday, allowing three hits and striking out three in two scoreless innings.

"It definitely helps that I've done it before," said Santana, who pitched in relief in the 2005 playoffs. "I got the feel today of pitching out of the bullpen and did a good job. No matter what situation I'm pitching in, I want to do my job and get people out."

Another encouraging sign for the Angels: Catcher Mike Napoli, who hit .174 (eight for 46) in September, with two homers and six runs batted in, had four hits in seven at-bats in two games against the A's, with an opposite-field home run in the third inning Sunday.

"When he goes to right field, that's a good sign," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He has big power everywhere. I also like the way he's matching up defensively.

"He's looked good with Weaver, Saunders and [Scott] Kazmir. Jeff [Mathis] has a great chemistry going with [John] Lackey, but Mike's defense will put him in position to get some more at-bats."

The Angels' three-game sweep of the A's gave them seven wins in their last eight regular-season games, not a bad way to enter the postseason.

The Angels also set single-season club records for runs (883), batting average (.285), RBIs (841) and hits (1,604). They tied the club record for fielding percentage (.986) and set a record for fewest errors (85).

"It's been a terrific regular season," Scioscia said. "We're all very proud of how these guys played, especially a lot of our younger players who have come around, and especially on the defensive end, and hopefully there's more good things ahead.

"I don't know if anyone looks to set records, but it's indicative of the talent level and depth on this club that has played well the whole season."


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