Champions of the AL West for the first time in 18 years, the Anaheim Angels will try to wrap up homefield advantage in the opening round of the playoffs when they complete the regular season against the deflated Oakland Athletics at Network Associates Coliseum.
The Angels and A’s entered this three-game set in a dead heat for first place in the West, but Anaheim cruised to a 10-0 win Friday night behind the dominant pitching of Bartolo Colon and rallied against Oakland’s bullpen in the eighth inning Saturday to pull out a 5-4 victory.
“I knew our guys weren’t going to melt,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
The stunned A’s couldn’t say the same after squandering leads of 2-0 and 4-2 in the must-win game. Oakland will miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The A’s had won consecutive division crowns and reached the postseason four straight years, only to lose a decisive fifth game in the opening round each time.
The A’s dropped to 12-18 in September—a shocking development for a team that’s been the best in baseball in the final month (70-30) the previous four years.
After pitching seven strong innings Saturday, left-hander Barry Zito told manager Ken Macha he couldn’t go out for the eighth because his legs had become stiff the past two innings and it was affecting his pitching.
“I asked (pitching coach) Curt (Young) if he was confident in the bullpen right now and he said yes,” Zito said. “In retrospect, it was the wrong call. But my legs were tightening up for the last couple of innings. I have to trust myself. I’m going to pitch as long as I can.”
If the Angels win Sunday, they will host wild card-winner Boston in the opening round. However, if Anaheim loses and Minnesota wins twice against Cleveland on Sunday, the Angels will hit the road to open the ALDS in New York on Tuesday.
Anaheim beat both New York and Minnesota before taking out San Francisco in seven games for its first-ever World Series title in 2002. The Angels captured the wild card that year, but Saturday marked their first division crown since 1986, when they lost the AL championship series to Boston in seven games.
“What we did to be at this point, nobody expected it,” Anaheim leadoff hitter Chone Figgins said. “It’s motivation. We were down four or five games, but we still had to play in our division. When you still have to play in your division and it’s coming down to the home stretch, you get a little more energy.”