Angels lock up third AL West title in 4 years with 7-4 win over Seattle

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Shades of 2002.

With John Lackey starting, Francisco Rodriguez closing and fans waving those rally monkeys, the Los Angeles Angels clinched their third AL West title in four years Sunday, beating the Seattle Mariners 7-4.

“It’s a lot of fun today, but it’s just the beginning,” said owner Arte Moreno, champagne dripping from the championship cap he wore in the clubhouse celebration. “You’ve got to get here before you can go on.

“We already know where we’ve been and now we’re excited about where we’re going,” he said.

After losing two in a row to the Mariners, manager Mike Scioscia’s team clinched in its final home game of the regular season.

Lackey (18-9) again came up big in a big game.

“I take a little pride in that sort of thing,” he said after holding the Mariners to two runs through seven innings. “I enjoy getting the opportunity in big games and I want to make the most of it.”

Lackey pitched the wild-card clincher in 2002, then won the final game of the World Series against San Francisco, the first rookie to win Game 7 in the World Series since 1909.

Rodriguez was the setup man that year and now is the team’s closer. He earned his 38th save in 43 chances with a 1-2-3 ninth against the Mariners.

“I guess he and I are a pretty good formula,” Lackey said. “I was a lot skinnier and younger then.”

Rodriguez, beaming, said it was great to be back in the playoffs.

“Now we just want to keep going, and going and going,” he said.

Hours after Cleveland clinched the AL Central, the Angels locked up their spot. On Saturday night, Boston assured itself of at least an AL wild-card slot.

Casey Kotchman and Macier Izturis homered in the second inning to put the Angels ahead to stay.

The Angels’ 91-65 record gave them an insurmountable 8 1/2 -game lead over the second-place Mariners.

Seattle was one game behind Los Angeles on Aug. 25, and two back when the Angels came to town two days later. The Angels swept the three-game series and the Mariners, who had lost five in a row at the point, went on to drop 10 of their next 12 and fall out of contention.

Seattle manager John McLaren complimented the Angels.

“That’s where you want to be—right in the middle of the field jumping on each other,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. We want that day to come soon for us.

“We know we’ve got our work to do to catch these guys. They’re a good ballclub. Mike and his staff did a great job and I wish them nothing but the best of luck. We played hard but came up short,” McLaren said.

The first-place finish is only the sixth in the Angels’ 47-year history, and the trip to the postseason is just their seventh. Before their recent run of success, they hadn’t made the playoffs since 1986.

The only players remaining from the 2002 championship team are Lackey, Rodriguez, Garret Anderson, Scot Shields and Chone Figgins. All were key contributors to the team’s drive to the West title this year.

Los Angeles has one goal remaining this week—earning home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs by finishing with the league’s best record. They’re currently bunched near the top with the Indians, Red Sox and New York Yankees.

“We hope to get it, but it’s more important for us to have our team as a whole ready to go,” Scioscia said. “We’re going to try to win every game out there, but not at the expense of a having a fractured team that isn’t where it needs to be. We have a huge challenge ahead of us.”

Lackey allowed seven hits and struck out seven as he beat Seattle for the fourth time in as many decisions this year. He hadn’t allowed a run all season against them until Jose Lopez’s RBI single in the fifth.

Ben Broussard added an RBI double in the sixth to pull the Mariners with 3-2, but a sacrifice fly by Figgins and an RBI single by Orlando Cabrera in the bottom half built the lead back. Howie Kendrick’s RBI single and another sacrifice fly by Figgins made it 7-2 in the seventh.

The Mariners scored twice in the eighth inning after they loaded the bases against Shields. Justin Speier relieved and threw consecutive wild pitches that allowed two runners to come home.

Jeff Weaver (7-13) gave up five runs and five hits. After he plunked Kendrick for the second time in the game, Weaver left the game because of a torn fingernail on his right hand.

The Angels have been considerably tougher at home this year, where they have a major league-best record of 54-27. They are just one game above .500 on the road, with a 38-37 mark.

Notes

The Angels clinched the division title earlier than ever before. The 1979 club locked up the West on Sept. 25. … Seattle last made the playoffs in 2001, winning the division with a club-record 116 victories. … The Angels’ home record matched the best mark in franchise history, which was set in 2002. Their 34th sellout crowd boosted their total home attendance to 3,365,632. … Seattle (82-72) finished its road schedule 39-41, four games worse than last season.

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