With Percival, Angels have smooth finish against Twins

Closer hasn't given Twins a run in six-year career

October 11, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Not much separates the two teams in the American League Championship Series beyond the cities they represent. Players are home-grown, drafted and developed in organizations that don't have the cash flow to spend recklessly on outsiders. Talent and runs are manufactured at an almost deliberate pace.

So what will be the deciding factor that enables the Anaheim Angels or Minnesota Twins to crash the next round of baseball's October party? Where's the edge?

Try looking in the Angels' bullpen, where closer Troy Percival, his blue eyes hidden by the brim of his cap, holds both a ball and the key to this series.

In one of sports' biggest statistical oddities, Percival hasn't allowed a run against the Twins during his eight-year career. That's 34 appearances and 36 1/3 innings without letting a runner cross the plate.

"There's no reason for the numbers. I have the same confidence against every team," Percival said, easing around the subject as if leery of disturbing it.

"There are a lot of good hitters over there. They're tough to get out, especially right now. If you don't make quality pitches, they're going to get you."

The Angels got 40 saves from Percival this season, five fewer than Minnesota left-hander Eddie Guardado, the league leader in his first full season as a closer. But few people outside of Minnesota would rate Guardado ahead of his ALCS counterpart. Percival slams the door. Guardado tends to leave it cracked.

Trusted with a 5-1 lead in the ninth inning of Game 5, Guardado didn't close out the Division Series until serving up a three-run homer to Oakland's Mark Ellis. His manager, Ron Gardenhire, suggested Guardado was exhausted.

Batters are tired of facing Percival, who twice has entered games in the eighth inning in the 2002 postseason. He got the last four outs of Game 2, striking out three, to even a series that shifts to Anaheim tonight.

"When you see a guy who is squinting and he throws the ball 250 miles an hour, it isn't a comfortable feeling," said Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. "They have a very good bullpen, and we have to try to get ahead early so they aren't a factor."

It's rare that Percival surfaces before the ninth inning, but he's become more visible in the playoffs. Manager Mike Scioscia was criticized after Game 1 of the Division Series for not letting him face New York's Bernie Williams in the eighth. Brendan Donnelly allowed a three-run homer to Williams while Percival fumed in the bullpen, glove resting on his hip and eyes fixed on the field.

The next night, Percival set down the last four hitters after Donnelly redeemed himself by striking out pinch hitter John Vander Wal. He also was needed in the eighth inning Wednesday night with the tying run at the plate, getting a called third strike on Bobby Kielty to preserve a 6-3 lead.

"Percy's a guy we do have available for four outs if necessary," Scioscia said. "The way the matchups were going, I thought it was going to be better to get Percy in there, and he did a great job."

The change in Percival's work schedule occurs without complaint. "In the playoffs it doesn't matter," he said. "I'll come out for the seventh. I don't know if I'll make it to the ninth, but I'll come out when you ask me to."

Percival, 40-for-44 in save chances during the regular season, is supported by an unheralded collection of relievers - including 20-year-old rookie Francisco Rodriguez - who lack only name recognition. The unit, which posted a 2.87 ERA during the regular season, is so deep Scioscia couldn't find room on the postseason roster for Dennis Cook and Al Levine.

"Our bullpen has been outstanding all year. They've set me up better than any time in my career," Percival said. "I've been in the eighth inning four times this year because those guys have been so good. It's a lot of fun for me to sit and watch."

"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for our bullpen stepping up," Scioscia said. "I'm not just talking about Troy Percival. He's a given. ... But if you look at guys like Brendan Donnelly, Ben Weber, Scott Schoeneweis and now Francisco Rodriguez, the pieces have just fit.

"We're not going to get to our goal unless these guys continue to throw the ball well."

Still Twins manager Ron Gardenhire isn't willing to give the Angels bullpen an edge over his.

"If we get to those situations, we feel just as comfortable as the Anaheim Angels in their situation going to their bullpen," he said after yesterday's workout. "We think we can shut the door on people, too. I have all the confidence in the world in these guys. I'm sure they do, too."

NOTE: Angels outfielder Tim Salmon expects to play tonight at Edison International Field. Salmon received a cortisone shot to alleviate pain in his right hamstring that forced him out of Game 2 in the third inning. "The only issue was we were playing on turf," he said of the Metrodome. "If we had been on a natural surface, I don't think it would have been the same."

Pitching matchup

Tonight...........Time/

Starter...Line...W-L...ERA

Minnesota...Milton (L)...8:19...14-9...4.75

at Anaheim...Washburn (L)...-175...19-6...3.18

NOTE: Stats include postseason

ALCS schedule

Minnesota vs. Anaheim

(Best of seven; *-if necessary)

TV:Chs. 45, 5

Series tied 1-1

Game 1:Minnesota, 2-1

Game 2:Anaheim, 6-3

Today: Minnesota (Milton 13-9) at Anaheim (Washburn 18-6), 8:19 p.m.

Tomorrow:at Ana., 7:50 p.m.

Sunday:at Ana., 4:30 p.m.

*Tuesday:at Minn., 8:19 p.m.

*Wed.:at Minn., 8:19 p.m.

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