One of the last things Angels manager Mike Scioscia said about his club the evening of Sept. 22, two days before its biggest series of the year was, "I'm going to be shocked if these guys melt."
So far, they've managed to stay in solid form. After losing a lackluster first game in their biggest series of the year with the Oakland A's, they won the last two to get in the thick of the playoff hunt.
All that despite the bizarre distraction of Jose Guillen's suspension for the remainder of the season after his strange tirade during Sunday's game. Guillen was angry about being removed for a pinch runner and he exploded in the dugout, chucking a batting helmet, among other things.
It wasn't the first incident for Guillen. In May, he called out Angels pitchers for not standing up and retaliating when Angels hitters have been plunked. And in July, he was benched for one game for blowing off a fan on-field photo day.
Guillen is gone, but the Angels who are left seem suddenly capable of sticking around to the end. First, they'll have to travel into Arlington, Texas, for four games and not lose ground to the A's, who are playing last-place Seattle at home.
Until the weekend resurgence, some Angels hitters appeared to be gripping the handles of their bats too tightly to make them effective. Scioscia juggled the lineup to set the table for the heavy hitters in the middle on Friday, but the big fellows were the ones who had been letting the team down.
Vladimir Guerrero and Guillen looked as if they were trying to homer on every pitch and Garret Anderson looked either injured or disinterested. Anderson, long bothered by tendinitis in his left knee, was 2 for his last 19 with one RBI on this homestand, but then he came up with one of the biggest hits of the year, an RBI double Saturday.
Desperate times seem to be calling for desperate measures.
--1B Andres Galarraga got his first start at first base this year on Sept. 20 and made two smooth plays in the field. He nearly turned a rare 3-6-3 double play, but Bret Boone narrowly beat the throw to first. He bumped into the railing guarding the Mariners dugout to catch a foul pop an inning later.
Galarraga, 43, beamed before the game talking about his first start since last September. He realizes his chances of hitting the two home runs he needs to reach 400 are dwindling. He was in Tuesday's lineup mostly because Darin Erstad is batting .194 in September.
"I think this is one of the opportunities right now and I have to do my best with them," Galarraga said. "I don't want to put pressure on myself, just let it happen. I hope I hit at least one home run -- for me and for the team."
Galarraga didn't hit a home run, but he did have two singles and an RBI. He is 17-for-41 (.415) in his career off Jamie Moyer.
--Manager Mike Scioscia met with Mariners manager Bob Melvin and Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price on the field before a Sept. 21 game to discuss the multiple beanings and brushback pitches the night before. Scioscia was ejected Monday for yelling at Seattle right-hander Ryan Franklin after Vladimir Guerrero was hit in the head with a first-inning fastball. "As far as we're concerned, it's over," Melvin said.
Rumored for weeks, it's now official: the 30-year relationship between the Athletics and the city of Modesto is over.
The A's announced Sept. 22 that they have signed a four-year player developmental contract with the city of Stockton for their California League affiliate.
The Stockton Ports will open new Banner Island Ballpark, currently under construction on the north shore of Stockton's deep water channel, on April 21 next season.
"My feet haven't touched the ground yet," Stockton general manager John Katz said. "When you think about the landmark events for our franchise, getting a ballpark was the first. This is the icing on the cake. Getting the A's makes it so much sweeter."
Understandably, it was a different reaction in Modesto.
"It is a sad day," Modesto general manager Mike Gorrasi said. "Anytime you have a relationship with somebody for 30 years, that's going to be the case. But there's no hurt feelings on either side. The A's are a first-class organization. Our relationship with their people will continue. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a little sad."
The opportunity to play in what is being billed as the best ballpark in the Cal League was the main motivation for the A's breaking the lengthy marriage.
The playing conditions at Modesto's John Thurman Field were a little below average and security in the players' parking lot was a huge problem.
Of the current A's players who spent time in Modesto, all said there was always problems with break-ins.
Stockton will retain its traditional nickname, the Ports. Their team colors will remain red, white and blue. Their previous affiliations were with Milwaukee (1979-2000), Cincinnati (2001-2002) and Texas (2003-2004).
"This is such a great opportunity for Ports fans," Katz said. "They will have a chance to watch these players develop in A ball in their own backyard, then drive 30 miles to see them in Triple-A, and 65 miles to see them in Oakland. That's a really unique situation."
Baseball won't be leaving Modesto. The team is expected to name its new affiliate this week.
--RHP Tim Hudson, LHP Mark Mulder and LHP Barry Zito started the three-game series at Arlington last week, the 22nd time the trio has started a three-game series. The A's were swept, just the third time that's ever happened. The previous two times were at Yankee Stadium: April 27-29 in 2001 and 2004.
--Hudson was stuck with yet another no-decision in the Thursday series finale at Arlington. It was the sixth time this year Hudson had left with the lead only to see the bullpen lose it.
--CF Mark Kotsay led off the Sept. 23 game against Texas with a home run. It was his fourth this season and seventh of his career.
--OF Eric Byrnes had been stuck on 19 home runs since Aug. 28 and hadn't driven in a run since Sept. 4 before hitting a two-run home run off Kelvim Escobar on Sept. 24. The home run gave the A's five players with at least 20 home runs this season, tying a team record set in 1996, 1999 and 2000.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Number of times an A's hitter has swung at a 3-0 pitch this season. The most recent was Adam Melhuse, who hit a home run Sept. 23.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If anybody says or writes this is going to be over in the next three or four days, they are wrong. This is going down to the end of the year. I don't see anybody going into a five-game winning streak or a five-game losing streak." -- A's manager Ken Macha on Sept. 25, with eight games remains in the season.
PITCHING TRENDS: It's been a weird season for the A's vaunted "Big Three" of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. They've all shown how they can dominate a game at times. But Hudson missed six weeks with a strained oblique. Zito was inconsistent in the first half and never sustained a dominant stretch of 4-5 starts. Mulder was once the runaway Cy Young candidate, then struggled in the second half and is now enduring the worst slump of his career. But in the final eight games, the A's are sending their Big Three to the mound six times. They will live and die with the Big Three.
Mariners manager Bob Melvin is trying to drum up support for RF Ichiro Suzuki as a candidate for the American League's MVP award.
Ichiro comes into the final week of the season as the likely successor to George Sisler as the all-time single-season hits king.
Sisler, a St. Louis Browns first baseman and Hall of Famer, had 257 hits in 1920. Ichiro came into the week with 251 hits and seven days to get them.
"We're not in the position as a team to help him (get MVP votes)," Melvin said. "But I don't see why you wouldn't consider him. For what he's accomplished this year is historic."
Ichiro will probably wind up having reached base more times this year than any American Leaguer. His 250th hit, which came Saturday, was the 300th time he's reached base (47 walks and three hit by pitches).
What Ichiro hasn't done has scored runs in the fashion you would expect of a leadoff hitter who's been on base 302 times.
"We haven't been able to get him home as much as we should have," said Melvin, whose team is last in the AL in runs scored and home runs. "But you look at what he's done, and he's had as good a year as anybody.
"There are guys out there who have had great years. But to get to 250 hits, to maybe get a record that's last for 85 years, you're putting up some ridiculous numbers. That should put him in competition for the MVP."
Nobody maligns LHP Kenny Rogers' talent more than Kenny Rogers.
So how did Rogers' react this week to getting the 175th win of his career?
"It's about 175 more than I ever expected," said Rogers, who beat Oakland on Wednesday in the middle game of the Rangers' shocking sweep of the first-place A's. "I guess I've exceeded the expectations everyone has had of me. My only goal when I was drafted was to make sure it didn't look like the Rangers had wasted a draft pick."
That pick, the Rangers' 39th round selection in 1982, was anything but wasted. It was a gamble when they made it, taking a slightly built outfielder from outside of Tampa, Fla., and projecting him to be a pitcher because he could throw hard.
Rogers reached the big leagues in 1989 by throwing hard but was nothing more than a situational or middle reliever for his first four years. He was 29 before he got a full-fledged shot at the rotation. All he's done since then is average 12.5 wins per season.
It is not out of the realm of reality to think Rogers could reach 200 wins before his career ends. Rogers, who turns 40 in November, is signed through next year.
"Honestly, it's not a goal," Rogers said. "I would be nice, but it's not a goal.
"The route I've taken, the road I've traveled, is not one people usually take. I was a zero, a shapeless blob when I was drafted. But everything happens for a reason. I wasn't ready to start when I first reached the majors. I've learned it."
Rogers, who starts Monday against Anaheim, will go over the 200-innings mark for the sixth time in his career. Another win would give him a career high; he previously won 17 in 1995. He should also start once over the season's final weekend in Seattle, giving him a shot at a 19-win season.
--There still doesn't appear to be significant improvement in OF Gary Matthews Jr.'s strained calf muscle. He has been limited to a single pinch-hitting appearance in the last 20 games. Without him, the Rangers have started OF Laynce Nix regularly in center field, even against lefties. Nix is hitting .185 against lefties now for 65 at-bats. Since Matthews' injury, Nix is 2-for-20 against lefties.
--SS Michael Young is approaching the club record for hits. Young, who is 9-for-22 (.409) on the homestand, has 208 hits. He is two shy of the mark set by Mickey Rivers in 1980. In addition, Young needs only one triple to reach double figures in homers (21), doubles (32), steals (12) and triples. He has scored a career high 110 RBIs and a big week -- 10 RBIs -- would give him a 100 RBIs, too.
--LHP Sam Narron, who was designated for assignment last week to make room for RHP Kameron Loe, was claimed by Milwaukee on waivers. If history is any indication, Narron will be a success. The Brewers have gotten LHP Doug Davis and RHP Dan Kolb from Texas for nothing. Narron made one start for the Rangers this season, but lasted only 2 2/3 innings and his fastball, which averages in the mid-80s, did not impress management.
BY THE NUMBERS: 43 -- wins for the Rangers in games decided by one or two runs. It's the most wins in such close games for the team since they won the same number in 1992. They last won more in 1990 (50). Five of the Rangers' last six wins have come by one or two runs.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got something going. This season has had too many special moments. A young team with confidence is a dangerous team. And we're a young team with confidence." -- OF David Dellucci speaking about being a team of destiny after his two-out, two-run clinched a sweep against Oakland.
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