In a corner, Angels feel right at home

But Anaheim trails 3-2, and skaky pitching keeps pressure on team's bats

Scioscia: `Our guys are confident'

Appier vs. Giants tonight

Game 7 starter up in air

October 26, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - One loss from elimination, one loss from seeing the San Francisco Giants walk off with the championship trophy, the Anaheim Angels finally feel comfortable.

After advancing through the first two rounds of the American League playoffs against the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins without facing an elimination game, the Angels will get that test tonight in Game 6 of the World Series.

"I look at it as the pressure's on them," Angels right fielder Tim Salmon said. "They're trying to get one game. Our backs are against the wall now.

"We're going to come out fighting. We've been in this situation all year long.

"We're actually more familiar being in this position where we're kind of the underdog."

With a history of collapsing when they were close to achieving something big - see the 1982 and 1986 American League Championship Series, and their 11-game collapse late in 1995 - the Angels have a chance to take a different path to their first world title.

Since this is baseball's first all wild-card World Series, neither side really has a right to consider itself a bigger underdog than the other.

So perhaps someone should fine Salmon for his comment. But trailing in the World Series, 3-2, the Angels have several legitimate factors working against them.

For one thing, their starting pitching options for the final two games of the series would have had the Orioles licking their chops, even in the middle of their season-ending 4-32 run.

Kevin Appier, who will start tonight, didn't make it past the third inning in his Game 2 start.

The Angels got Appier seven runs in the first two innings - against Russ Ortiz, who starts tonight for San Francisco - and Appier came close to giving away that lead before Angels manager Mike Scioscia went to his bullpen.

Including his final four games of the regular season, Appier is winless in his past eight starts.

"I feel strong," Appier said yesterday. "Hopefully, my stuff has really good life, and my command's a lot better."

Even if the Angels can survive Appier's start and force a Game 7, their options for that one are also limited.

The Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series after trailing 3-2 last season, but they still had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to start the final two games.

Scioscia said he is considering several scenarios.

Ramon Ortiz, who has tendinitis in his right wrist, received more treatment yesterday, and Scioscia said he will either have Ortiz start Game 7 or pitch out of the bullpen tonight.

John Lackey, who started Game 4 on Wednesday, could start Game 7 on three days' rest or pitch in the bullpen at some point.

And with everything on the line, Scioscia said he could also foresee an expanded role for left-hander Scott Schoeneweis, who went 6-6 with a 5.38 ERA in 15 starts this season.

Scioscia said it's unlikely that Schoeneweis will start, but he will be available if another pitcher struggles early in a game.

More than ever, it appears the Angels will need to a rely on their potent offense, which has produced 10 or more hits in each of the past four games.

The Angels are batting .328 for the series, 10 points under the record set by the 1960 Yankees, who lost in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"Our guys are confident," Scioscia said.

"I mean, I think anyone writing us off in this series is a little premature."

Anaheim won 99 games this season but spent the second half chasing the Oakland Athletics, who finished with 103 victories.

After pulling away in the wild-card race, the Angels had a chance to clinch a playoff berth on Sept. 21, but they proceeded to lose their next four games.

The clincher didn't come until five days later, and Scioscia referred to that stretch yesterday in talking about how his team must approach these next two games.

"I think it's going to be important that we keep our perspective and go out and play our game," Scioscia said.

"When our club has tried to step up, saying, `We're going to bull our way across this goal,' we haven't had the success that we've needed."

Pitching matchupsTonight

Time/StarterLineW-LERASan Francisco Ru. Ortiz (R)7:5816-103.86

at Anaheim Appier (R)-12514-134.11

Tomorrow

San Francisco (Hernandez 13-17 or Rueter 15-9) at Anaheim (Ra. Ortiz 17-9 or Lackey 10-4), 8:02 p.m.* NOTE: Statistics include postseason. *-if necessary

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