Angels go flat with chance to clinch AL West title

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Johnny Damon, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were big at the plate, yet the Yankee power hitters were awed by their teammate on the mound who was unruffled in his first major league start.

Backed by two homers from Damon, Rodriguez’s three-run shot and Jeter’s 2-for-4 outing, Alfredo Aceves kept Los Angeles hitters’ off-balance in New York’s 7-1 victory Tuesday night.

The Angels’ loss, combined with Texas’ 7-3 victory at Seattle, left their magic number at two for clinching their fourth AL West crown in five years. They can pop the champagne corks Wednesday with a victory in the series finale and a Texas loss on the road.

Aceves (1-0) allowed one run and five hits in seven innings, struck out two and didn’t walk anyone in his third major league appearance.

“A pitcher has a little advantage when the hitters haven’t seen him,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He changed speeds and got some outs when he needed. I don’t think he did anything that surprised us, but until you get in the batter’s box and get a look at the guy, it’s tough to have an idea of exactly what his ball is going to do.”

Aceves, a native of Mexico who began the season at Single-A Tampa, was cheered by about 30 family and friends. He planned to give the lineup card to his father as a souvenir.

“We played very good defense and we hit,” he said alternately speaking English, then Spanish that was interpreted by catcher Ivan Rodriguez. “It’s a good feeling, but it’s another game. I’m not thinking of my past or my future. My job is to hold other teams and play good baseball to win.”

The struggling Yankees, unlikely to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993, broke out with 10 hits.

But Damon singled out Aceves’ performance.

“Our guy threw the ball very well,” he said. “We’re definitely very proud of him.”

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Aceves had promised him seven innings and the 25-year-old pitcher delivered.

“He faced a very tough lineup,” Girardi said. “The kid has a lot of heart and obviously he’s not afraid to throw strikes.”

Aceves helped himself by starting an inning-ending double play in the fourth.

“That was a big turn,” starting catcher Chad Moeller said. “He’s got good stuff. It’s going to be learning how to pitch here and what to do. He’s got four quality pitches and he’s not afraid of anyone out there.”

Rodriguez’s 33rd homer in the sixth off Ervin Santana (15-6) extended the Yankees’ lead to 4-0 and helped them end a four-game losing streak against the Angels.

The inning began with Gary Matthews Jr., who had just replaced Torii Hunter in center field, being charged with a three-base error after dropping Derek Jeter’s fly ball on the warning track.

“It’s a play I should have made and for some reason I didn’t come up with it,” Matthews said. “He (Santana) has been darn near perfect for us, but when you put any pitcher in that position where you don’t make a play that you probably should make for him, it can get hairy.”

Jeter singled in the first, surpassing Babe Ruth for second on the Yankees’ all-time hits list with 2,519, trailing only Lou Gehrig. He notched a single in the seventh.

“It sounds funny,” Jeter said. “Anytime you’re mentioned in the same sentence as players like that it makes you feel weird. You play long enough and you’re consistent enough, you’re going to make things happen. I’ve been fortunate.”

Santana gave up his lone walk of the game to Bobby Abreu before Rodriguez sent a towering shot to right-center.

Santana, who was 4-0 in his previous seven starts, lost for the first time since July 27 against Baltimore. The right-hander, moved up in the rotation because of an injury to Jered Weaver, allowed six runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings, striking out six. Santana had fanned seven or more batters in seven consecutive starts, the first Angel to do so since Nolan Ryan in 1978.

“I thought Ervin had good stuff and threw the ball much better than his line score is going to show,” Scioscia said. “They hit a couple of balls to the outfield that we couldn’t make plays on. If we made a couple of plays on the defensive side, I think it gives a different look to that game. We didn’t support Ervin enough in the field and couldn’t get enough going at the plate to pressure those guys.”

Angels left fielder Reggie Willits dived for a backhanded catch of Xavier Nady’s double in the second, but the ball bounced off his glove, giving New York a 1-0 lead.

“I thought Reggie had a bead on that first ball and it would have been a nice catch,” Scioscia said. “By no stretch of the imagination am I saying that play was routine, but if we could have made that play, obviously it changes the whole complexion of that first inning.”

Damon hit a two-run homer that chased Santana in the seventh, making it 6-1. He added a solo shot in the ninth.

“I’ll take it after how I started. I wasn’t catching up to any of his fastballs,” he said. “I just want to try to feel good at the plate. Lately it’s been a rough go. There’s been a lot of guys who’ve been struggling. It was good to get a big home run from Alex to give us a cushion.”

One night after routing the Yankees 12-1, the Angels’ only run came on Vladimir Guerrero’s RBI groundout in the sixth.


Hunter left the game because of a tight left quadriceps and is day-to-day. … With Weaver still not ready to go Wednesday, RHP Dustin Moseley (1-3) will start the series finale for the Angels. … Neither the Angels nor the Yankees heard from the commissioner’s office Tuesday about possible suspensions as a result of the bench-clearing fight triggered by Hunter and Ivan Rodriguez a night earlier. Scioscia said he didn’t anticipate any discipline, but Girardi said he thought there would be. Both men agreed the incident was minor, although Hunter and Rodriguez were both ejected.

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