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ANGELS: NOW, A PERFECT 10 WILL DO DIVISION DECIDER TURNS INTO SERIES OF SURVIVAL FOR ANGELS.

Byline: DOUG PADILLA Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- The invitations sent out months ago said this would be a black-tie affair.

Suddenly it's looking like business casual will suffice. Maybe even jeans and T-shirts.

Seven of the last 10 games of the season between the Angels and Oakland Athletics were supposed to bring out the best in everybody involved. It will only be interesting now if the Angels run the table.

This was going to be high noon stuff and even the computer that makes the schedule knew it. With their magic number to clinch the American League West down to four, the A's have a good chance to celebrate a title this weekend.

``We put ourselves in the situation,'' Angels pitcher John Lackey said. ``They're playing pretty good baseball; we're playing OK. We're not playing where we thought we would be at this point of the season.''

It had looked so promising that national television committed to the festivities. Now, Fox probably is hoping for two A's victories to open the series so the network can show the division-clinching celebration to the country.

``We need to win 10,'' Orlando Cabrera said. ``If they win one, we're done. We need to win.''

The Angels have been unable to keep pace with the A's since they slipped out of a first-place tie after losing to the Boston Red Sox in extrainnings July 29.

By Aug. 16, when the Angels played the Texas Rangers, the deficit had reached 6 1/2 games.

It got as high as 8 1/2 games after a defeat at Detroit on Sept. 1.

From there the Angels have showed some fight. They are 12-6 this month, which hasn't meant a whole lot since the A's have gone 12-7.

Even though owner Arte Moreno said this week that another team will be wearing the AL West crown this season, everybody in uniform is staying in character and putting their best spin on things.

``We have to make a stand,'' Angels pitcher Kelvim Escobar said. ``It's three games we have to win. That's the team we're chasing and we have an opportunity to get closer to them.''

For those who dared to throw out a number, the Angels would have to be three or four games behind the A's heading into this weekend. A deficit of seven back was deemed undoable, but that is where the Angels stand.

``Really, the best chance to meet this challenge is to just go game-to-game like we have been to get back into this,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ``You're going to see we have good matchups on the mound for us, they have good matchups on the mound for them. It's going to be a heck of a series and obviously you can't look past a pitch, you can't look past an inning.

``You need your focus to bring the game the way you need it to have an opportunity to get on that run we need to get on.''

Step-by-step is a fine strategy and one the A's seem to have been on much longer. Both teams have dealt with injuries this season, but the standings show the A's have dealt with it much better.

Oakland has lost Rich Harden for nearly all of the season and has been without Milton Bradley (twice), Esteban Loaiza, Justin Duchscherer, Frank Thomas, Bobby Crosby and Huston Street.

While the pitching has been solid all season with the fourth-lowest ERA in the AL at 4.12, the hitting has come to life over the past month. The A's have been among the worst hitting teams all season but have batted a major-league leading .295 in September.

Signing Thomas as a free agent was considered a risk since the slugger had barely played the past twoseasons because of ankle injuries.

He ended up turning himself into an MVP candidate again by batting .277 with 38 home runs and 107 RBIs.

As damaging as the Thomas comeback has been to the Angels, even they could appreciate it.

``It always makes you happy to see that because every guy who has been in the league eight, nine, 10 years and then 12, you see yourself in those shoes to come back and ahve a great yeart like that," Cabrera said. "It's been surprising but he's worked hard and he found another home for himself."

doug.padilla@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2731

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

Oakland's Frank Thomas comes into the series against the Angels with a team-best 38 homers and 107 RBIs.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Box:

ANGELS at OAKLAND

- Doug Padilla
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 22, 2006
Words:767
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