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ANGELS GET A WALL PASS DAVANON'S BIG PLAY IN RIGHT PRESERVES COMEBACK WIN ANGELS 6, BOSTON 5.

Byline: Gabe Lacques Staff Writer

BOSTON - With the Angels' clubhouse fractured into two evenly divided camps by a debate that raged for nearly an hour after Friday night's game, Troy Percival made his way through a cluster of teammates in their cramped Fenway Park dressing quarters to set the record straight.

Percival was just a few feet away in the visitors' bullpen when Trot Nixon smoked a flyball into the right-field corner with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Angels up a run. Reserve outfielder Jeff DaVanon raced to catch up to the ball, speared it at the wall, nearly toppled over into the bullpen, then guided the ball back to safety on the warning track.

The question: Would it have been a game-tying home run without DaVanon's heroics?

``It was gone,'' Percival said. ``They can play whatever camera angle they want on it. I can't believe people are arguing with me on it.''

There was one matter not in dispute. While Percival pitched the ninth inning of the Angels' 6-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox, DaVanon's highlight-reel play saved the day.

DaVanon is on the roster only because center fielder Darin Erstad is on the disabled list. He was in the game only because the Angels like to remove Tim Salmon for defensive purposes when they have a lead late in the game.

But on this night, the Angels' 25th man was the No. 1 star.

After guiding the ball back into play, DaVanon got off the ground and fired it back toward the infield before Nixon could race around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

Given a reprieve, relief pitcher Brendan Donnelly got Shea Hillenbrand to ground to first, stranding Nixon at third, ending the inning and preserving a victory shortstop David Eckstein called the team's biggest of the year.

DaVanon's eye-opening noncatch resonated on several levels. It meant the Angels' rally from a 4-0 deficit was not in vain, and it preserved Donnelly's perfect earned-run average, now at 22 1/3 innings and counting.

And it was a stirring example that even with Erstad out, the Angels can summon the manpower to produce victories, even against a Red Sox team that came in with a 26-14 record.

``That was awesome,'' said Erstad, who looked as happy as he's been since he last played April 19, before a strained hamstring tendon put him on the disabled list. ``I have it as not going over the fence, but you know what? It doesn't matter. I've seen (Jay) Buhner fall over that wall, Terrence Long rob a home run over there. Jeff will be in there with all those great plays in right-center.''

But was it gone?

``That ball was way gone,'' Donnelly said. ``I threw a two-seamer that didn't seam. I saw Devo go back, saw he was still with the play. When it came back down inside, I said, `Devo, get up because this fool's running.' ''

DaVanon, who missed the entire 2000 season with a torn labrum and the past four months of his Triple-A season with a bad back, wasn't sure whether the ball was going out.

``I just tried to put the best possible route to get to the ball,'' he said. ``Right around the wall, I knew I was close to it. When you're close, you go for it.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Adam Kennedy's eighth-inning single off Boston's Alan Embree on Friday scored the game-winning run.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 17, 2003
Words:583
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