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BILL DWYRE

Angels are all about focusing on the now

They don't want to think about playoff potentials with the Yankees in town. Scioscia is in control and everybody has bought in. Daydreaming is not allowed.

September 22, 2009|BILL DWYRE

The Angels are like the pregnant woman who doesn't want to show anything yet. They are a team in waiting, trying their best to be a team in denial.

When they beat the Rangers in Texas on Sunday, in a 10-5 offensive outburst that was encouraging to fans who have worried as the bats went lukewarm in September, their lead in the American League West went to 7 1/2 games. They had 13 left, 10 at home.

Sure, it's not a lock. The late Gene Mauch lived that with the '64 Phillies. So did the '51 Dodgers. You remember Bobby Thomson: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

Well, it's not likely there will be any of that in Anaheim this year. If Mike Scioscia were Red Auerbach, he'd be lighting up a cigar. But Scioscia, the Angels' manager, is as similar to Auerbach as football is to croquet.

And therein lies the rub.

Questions about the playoffs are answered firmly. The playoffs are not here. Tonight's game is. For Monday night, and the next two games at Angel Stadium, there is only one issue with Scioscia. The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!

That's even when the questions are simple, obvious, boilerplate stuff: Will this not be a good time to start sizing up these same Yankees with the thought in mind that they are the most likely opponent for the American League pennant? That assumes the Angels will get past the Red Sox in the divisional series and the Yankees will do the same against Detroit.

Big assumptions, of course, but what's the harm of thinking ahead a little, especially with a comfortable division lead? Why not start to talk about the playoff pitching rotation? Who of the five starters will go to the bullpen, for example?

"This isn't an audition," Scioscia says.

He doesn't just talk it. His starting lineup against the Yankees on Monday was missing only Kendry Morales from the A-team. Morales is in a slump and Scioscia let him rest until the seventh inning, when he pinch-hit and blasted a towering home run.

See ya, slump.

The other guns were blaring too, right from the start.

Bobby Abreu singled with two out, Vladimir Guerrero doubled him home in the gap in right center and Torii Hunter hit the same spot to bring Guerrero in. First inning, Andy Pettitte slapped around. Angels led, 2-0.

This is why Angels fans have little to worry about. Their team, led by its manager, does all the worrying.

"Let's be honest. Crazy things can happen," says Gary Matthews Jr.

"Nothing is set in stone," says Jason Bulger.

"My dad always told me to only worry about the task at hand," says Hunter.

And then there is the standard, all together now: "Nobody's popping the champagne yet." Matthews, Bulger and Scioscia all said that in separate interviews.

So what does this mean?

It means that Scioscia is in control and that everybody has bought in. This is both a team and a cliche. Togetherness is mandated and practiced. All eyes are on the ball. Daydreaming is not allowed.

Nor is it as if the guy in control doesn't know what he is doing. Remember 2002? Yes, that World Series title. Same leader, same approach, ultimate results.

The Angels are about to win their third straight division title and their fifth in six seasons. Last year, they won 100 games. With 12 to go this year, they are 90-60. This is the team that, earlier this season, had a starting lineup for one game with all nine hitters at .300 or above. And the slippage since has been slight.

That's unheard of in the big leagues. So rest easy, fans.

The hard part, of course, is what comes next, even though the Angels aren't talking about that. That would be, most likely, the Red Sox in the divisional playoffs. Everybody knows the history, kind of like you know where all the ghosts are in your attic.

1986 -- The Donnie Moore league championship series, the Angels one strike from the World Series and the Red Sox win.

2004 -- Three-game Red Sox sweep in the league divisional series.

2007 -- Same thing.

2008 -- Same result, except it takes four games.

Matthews slips only slightly off the play-'em-one-at-a-time edict in addressing the ghost.

"The only time the playoffs even came to mind," he says, "is when we were in Boston. That brought memories of goals not reached."

The Yankees began Monday with the best record in baseball at 95-55. They ended it at 95-56. Final score: Worrywarts 5, Bronx Bombers 2.

Joe Saunders pitched a beauty for 8 1/3 innings, beating Pettitte, and Brian Fuentes closed, as he is supposed to. Alex Rodriguez hit a homer for the Yankees, as he is supposed to.

When Fuentes shut the Yankees down, there were two men on and the tying run at the plate. Plenty of drama. The crowd on its feet. Kind of a playoff feel.

Oops, sorry, Mike.

Before the game, a reporter remarked to Tim Mead, the Angels' director of communications, that the extra seating is already up in the press box for the playoffs. Scioscia overheard and said, "Better not be." Mead says they are just doing a test run for next year's All-Star game. Scioscia smiled, appreciating good scrambling.

The lines to buy playoff tickets will soon be getting longer at Angel Stadium ticket offices.

They may have to bring Scioscia in a back door.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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