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10/09/05 11:23 PM ET

Angels save their best for last

Staff ace Colon gets the call in Monday's Game 5 vs. Yankees

NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon's not much of an excuses guy.

So after he gave up a total of four runs in the first two innings of the Angels' 4-2 loss to the Yankees in Game 1 of this American League Division Series, he didn't make any.

He could have questioned left fielder Garret Anderson's defensive positioning in the first inning, when a fly ball hit by Yankees rookie second baseman Robinson Cano fell beyond Anderson's reach for a two-out, three-run double.

He could have called out his offense for being shut down by sore-elbowed Yankees starter Mike Mussina.

Instead, he placed the blame where he always places it when he loses: on his own broad shoulders.

"I'm ticked off that I didn't do the job," Colon said through an interpreter afterward. "But overall, going seven innings is a plus, knowing how many pitches I had thrown early."

That's the type of accountability that has made Colon the No. 1 starter of the Angels' pitching staff, and he'll wear the title of big-game pitcher Monday night when he takes the mound for the deciding Game 5 back at Angel Stadium.

The rainout of Saturday's scheduled Game 3 gives Colon an extra day of rest, something manager Mike Scioscia said should help given the fact that Colon has had intermittent problems with his lower back in the last month.

"He did finish strong and his velocity was fine," Scioscia said. "I think in Game 1, he pitched a lot better than the linescore would have showed. He gave up four runs early, but he had a chance to get out of any one of those innings with no damage.

"We're confident he's going to be fine. The extra day is something that any pitcher can use at this time, and I'm sure that his back will be 100 percent [Monday] and we'll see how long he can go if we need him."

Colon certainly adhered to that plan in Game 1 despite the loss.

After the early hiccups in Game 1, Colon pitched scoreless baseball for another five frames and needed 53 more pitches to do it, allowing a walk and a single the rest of the way, prompting his teammates to laud him for a bounce-back effort .

"Four runs is not the end of the world," Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy said. "Bart did a good job keeping it there. We just couldn't string anything together."

"He did great," added first baseman Darin Erstad. "Obviously he got off to a slow start, but he settled down and did what he had to do. We have to be able to put some runs on the board for him."

The Angels had done enough of that most of the year. Colon led the AL with 21 wins and pitched a team-high 222 2/3 innings. He finished with a 3.48 ERA.

It was a bold departure from his inconsistent 2004 season, when he arrived with the Angels fresh from signing a four-year, $51 million deal and proceeded to go 5-8 with a Major League-high 6.57 ERA into July.

Again, Colon made no excuses, but behind the scenes his ankle was bothering him and the injury was affecting his delivery.

His ankle got better and so did his stuff.

He finished 2004 with a flourish, going 13-4 down the stretch and leading the Angels to their first division title since 1986. This year, Colon's excellence led them to their second straight AL West crown.

And if Colon can pitch the Angels to victory Monday night, he'll advance to his first AL Championship Series since 1999.

"He's our horse, no question about it," said Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly.

"He goes hard, throws hard, and usually comes through when we need him."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.