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ANGELS 5, NEW YORK YANKEES 2

Angels do their best to get an edge

More wins over the Yankees could set up a good playoff matchup.

September 22, 2009|BEN BOLCH

The Angels could be making a playoff push on two fronts in the first three games of their final regular-season homestand.

They want to increase their lead over Texas in the American League West, but they also wouldn't mind if they contributed to a late collapse by the leaders of the AL East.

Should the New York Yankees falter over the last two weeks and fall out of first place in their division, they probably would open the postseason in Anaheim as the wild-card entrant.

And that, of course, would send the dreaded Boston Red Sox elsewhere.

The Angels nudged those wishful thoughts a bit closer to reality Monday night at Angel Stadium with a 5-2 victory over the Yankees.

Joe Saunders (14-7) continued his remarkable return from shoulder stiffness by pitching 8 1/3 strong innings and strengthening his bid to make the Angels' playoff rotation.

He gave up two runs -- on towering home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui -- and seven hits, and improved to 5-0 with a 2.11 earned-run average in six starts since coming off the disabled list.

"I think it was just the confidence level in my shoulder," Saunders said of his resurgence. "Having the confidence that I could throw the ball like I'm capable was huge for me."

The Angels maintained a 7 1/2 -game division lead over second-place Texas and reduced their magic number to clinch a third consecutive division title to six with 12 games remaining.

The Yankees, whose lead over Boston held steady at five games after the Red Sox lost to Kansas City, can't seem to win at Angel Stadium no matter who is on the mound or in the lineup. They were swept in a three-game series before the All-Star break even though the Angels were without Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera.

Not even Andy Pettitte (13-7), who was undefeated in his previous nine starts, could prevent New York from dropping to 5-18 in its last 23 games at Angel Stadium.

"They bring out the best in us," Saunders said. " . . . Hats off to us for rising to the occasion."

Pettitte appeared in good shape in the first inning after catcher Jose Molina threw out Chone Figgins trying to steal second base for the second out. But Bobby Abreu singled up the middle and Guerrero and Hunter followed with run-scoring doubles to give the Angels a 2-0 lead.

Erick Aybar had a run-scoring single past diving third baseman Rodriguez in the fifth and Kendry Morales hit his first career pinch-hit home run, in the seventh inning against Brian Bruney. It was Morales' first home run since Aug. 30, against Oakland.

"It was good to see him square one up because he's been down for a long time," Scioscia said.

Saunders felt a twinge near his left knee after exiting the dugout before the second inning, prompting Scioscia and trainer Adam Nevala to visit him on the mound after Robinson Cano hit into a double play in that inning. But Saunders' night was just getting started.

He departed to a standing ovation in the ninth after giving up a one-out single to Rodriguez. Closer Brian Fuentes retired Nick Swisher on a deep fly ball to left field and walked Jorge Posada to put two on with two out and trigger a few boos from the stands.

But Fuentes got Cano to ground out to first baseman Morales for his major league-leading 44th save.

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Magic number

6

This is the combination of Angels wins and Texas losses that will clinch the AL West title. H: home games left.

R: road games left.

*--* AL WEST W L Pct GB H R Angels 90 60 600 -- 9 3 Texas 82 67 550 7.5 3 10 *--*

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