09/10/08 10:15 PM EST
Angels beat Yanks, claim West
Rangers' loss clinches Halos' seventh division title
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
On Wednesday at Angel Stadium, the soft-spoken duo emerged in starring roles in a 4-2 victory over the Yankees that became the American League West title-clincher an hour later when the Mariners held off the Rangers in Seattle. This touched off a boisterous clubhouse celebration complete with the customary champagne and beer baths.
The Angels' fourth division in five seasons was the earliest AL West clinching in history. The Majors' first postseason entrant, manager Mike Scioscia's troupe now will play out the schedule with the mission of finishing with the AL's best record to guarantee home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
"It's a great day," said first-year Angels general manager Tony Reagins, who pulled the trigger on three major moves -- acquiring Jon Garland and Torii Hunter in November and Mark Teixeira in July -- that helped transform the club into a force. "You work hard to accomplish something, and to take great people around you makes it special.
"When we got started, I mentioned that we had one goal and that was to win a world championship. We accomplished step one. Everything we did all season showed up today."
Something of a forgotten man after offseason arm surgery and struggles at Triple-A Salt Lake this season, Moseley came out of the shadows to put it together against the Yankees. Enduring a rocky first inning, he shut down the Bronx Bombers into the sixth inning, claiming the win when Quinlan cracked a two-out, two-run single in the home half against Andy Pettitte, driving home the tying and go-ahead runs.
Fittingly, Francisco Rodriguez registered the save, his 56th, leaving him one shy of Bobby Thigpen's all-time single-season record.
The ninth-inning master was anchoring another superb performance from the bullpen in support of Moseley: four innings, one hit, two walks, seven strikeouts from Kevin Jepsen, Jose Arredondo, Scot Shields and K-Rod.
"It hasn't been easy, by any means," a relieved Scioscia said. "This team has pulled together and done the job all year long."
Moseley was thrilled to have a prominent role when it counted after enduring so much frustration this season.
"It's a beautiful thing," Moseley, a part-time starter the past two seasons, said. "The team camaraderie at times I've been here, what a great group of guys. Hopefully, great things can happen this season. Clinching the division so early shows the talent and commitment here."
Before moving into the clubhouse to cut loose in celebration, the Angels gathered on the field and expressed their appreciation to close to 10,000 fans who remained behind to watch the final innings of the Mariners-Rangers game on the scoreboard.
To chants of "Arte!" from the stands, owner Arte Moreno came out to greet fans with his wife, Carole.
Soon the players, led by Jered Weaver, were emerging from the dugout. Taking a hose from the pitching mound, shortstop Erick Aybar began spraying teammates before handing it over to Arredondo. The rookie reliever took it up a notch, carrying the hose over to the stands and spraying fans.
This was mild compared to the scene that followed in the clubhouse.
"On a scale of one to 10," said Hunter, in the center of all the action with goggles and drenched clothes, "this celebration has to be No. 1."
By claiming the season series 7-3 from the Yankees for the fifth straight year, the Angels moved to 88-57 -- the Majors' best record. They did it with only three everyday players in the lineup: Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero and Mike Napoli, who shares the catching job with Jeff Mathis. Semi-regulars Gary Matthews Jr. and Juan Rivera also started for Scioscia.
With first baseman Mark Teixeira running a temperature, third baseman Chone Figgins nursing a tender right elbow and Aybar and second baseman Howie Kendrick recovering from hamstring strains, the Angels had an all-backup infield: Quinlan at third, rookies Brandon Wood (double, single) and Sean Rodriguez (a double) at shortstop and second, respectively, and Kendry Morales (double) behind Moseley and the relief staff.
Also out was Hunter, the great center fielder who was starting a two-game suspension on Wednesday for his role in a fracas with Yankees catcher Ivan Rodriguez on Monday night.
"We got hit with a lot of stuff the last couple weeks," Scioscia said. "Aybar, Howard. Tex is out today, Torii, Figgy. It's the depth every organization needs. We're fortunate it's carried us there. It's important."
Settling down after a pep talk from pitching coach Mike Butcher, Moseley (2-4) held the Yankees in check after yielding two first-inning runs.
Quinlan's big blow against Pettitte delivered two runs in the fifth, a third scoring on Xavier Nady's throwing error.
Down 1-2 in the count, Quinlan worked it full before lashing a line drive to left field that brought an October roar from the crowd of 39,783 as it fell in front of Nady.
Matthews and Anderson scored, and when Nady's throw sailed past third base, Guerrero sprinted home to make it 4-2. Matthews, Anderson and Guerrero had opened the inning with consecutive singles, but Pettitte struck out Rivera and Morales before Quinlan delivered in the clutch.
"I've had at-bats in the playoffs that might have been bigger," Quinlan said, "but for a regular-season game, that's pretty special.
"I got down 1-2 and fought off some pitches to get to 3-2. If it was close, I was taking a hack. He got it in on me a little bit, but I put it in a good spot."
Getting his second start with Weaver nursing two cuts in his pitching hand, Moseley wobbled in the first inning. The Yankees seized the lead on Jason Giambi's RBI single and a balk after Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu had walked on four pitches apiece.
Finding his rhythm and locating his two-seam fastball along with a quality curveball and changeup, Moseley allowed only two singles after striking out Nady to close the first, striking out six.
"I prepare the same way I always have," said Moseley, who practices visualization before starts. "Sometimes you can forget the smaller things you need to do as far as relaxing, breathing. When your heart gets to racing, you kind of lose control."
That's where Butcher's soothing words came into play, assuring Moseley that he'd be fine if he just calmed down.
"He told me, 'Relax, man, do what you're capable of doing,'" Moseley said. "'Believe in yourself.' It's been a real long year mentally for me. The opportunity to go out and get a win in a situation like this is a beautiful thing."
Anderson never has had difficulty believing in his sweet stroke, no matter what the circumstances might be. A major force in the 2002 run to the World Series title, the veteran showed the way on Wednesday.
A .390 career hitter against Pettitte coming in, he finished the game at a cool .400 against one of the game's premier lefties in 80 at-bats. Anderson doubled on the first pitch he saw in the first inning, scoring on Rivera's fielder's choice grounder.
Anderson's sixth-inning single to center followed Matthews' hit to the same location, and Matthews had to hold at third on Guerrero's one-hop single off the wall in right with Abreu getting the ball quickly back into the infield.
It was left to Quinlan, hitting .400 over his past six games, to deliver the big blow.
"Q's swinging the bat very well his last 50 at-bats," Scioscia said. "That's a huge at-bat there. After strikeout, strikeout, a pitcher can see his way out of it. For Q to square one up, getting us a lead, that's important."
Fresh off a strong showing for bronze-medalist Team USA in the Beijing Games, Jepsen unleashed mid-90s heat in a perfect sixth inning. Arredondo worked a scoreless seventh and Shields a perfect eighth.
It was left, finally, to K-Rod to catch Hideki Matsui looking at a third strike after a walk and a single had the Yankees threatening.
"This year it's almost magical the way everything's fallen in place," Scioscia said of his closer. "He's as consistent as any pitcher I've seen."
With two more saves, surpassing Thigpen, K-Rod will take his magic to a new level.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.