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Angels within a win of first World Series berth

ANGELS 7, TWINS 1: Great pitching continues to be the deciding factor.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2002

ANGELS 7, TWINS 1: Great pitching continues to be the deciding factor.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ever since Bud Selig first uttered the word contraction in November, the Twins have been determined to fight off elimination in one form or another.

This may be their toughest test.

A sloppy 7-1 loss to the Angels on Saturday in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series pushed them to the edge again, and they'll need to win this afternoon and twice more in Minnesota to keep the Angels from reaching their first World Series.

"They won three in a row, and so can we," Minnesota's Doug Mientkiewicz said. "It's not out of the realm of possibility. We have to go home, sleep fast, wipe it out and start over."

The Twins face a difficult but not unprecedented task. Two of the 10 teams that have trailed 3-1 in an ALCS came back to win: the 1985 Royals (over the Blue Jays) and the '86 Red Sox (over -- guess who? -- the Angels). In all postseason play there have been eight teams to overcome 3-1 deficits, most recently the '96 Braves (over the Cardinals) in the NLCS.

Saturday's game actually was a brilliant pitchers' duel between Minnesota's Brad Radke, the stoic right-hander from Tampa's Jesuit High, and Anaheim rookie John Lackey, a 23-year-old called up in June who pitched in his 20th big-league game.

The two were so good the game was scoreless into the seventh before another electric Edison Field crowd of 44,830.

Radke pitched well, retiring the first nine Angels and allowing only two singles through the first six innings and five hits total over his 62/3 innings -- and he lost.

"Radke did everything he was supposed to do for this baseball team tonight," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

It wasn't enough, because Lackey was too tough, allowing three singles over seven shutout innings, getting out of a third-inning jam when the Twins appeared to miss a hit-and-run sign and retiring 11 in a row in one stretch, five by strikeouts.

"For a youngster who was in the minor leagues 31/2 months ago to come up and do that is incredible," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I can't say enough good things about him."

Even more impressive: In 1998, Lackey was a lumbering first baseman at the University of Texas-Arlington. Someone noticed he had a good arm and suggested he try pitching. He learned how in a summer league and had a decent debut in '99 at Grayson County College in Denison, Texas, impressive enough that the Angels took him in the second round of the '99 draft.

The Angels scored twice in the seventh, taking advantage of a couple of bloop hits, a walk and a throwing error by catcher A.J. Pierzynski. They added five in the eighth against a suddenly hittable Twins bullpen.

"That's their game and they've been doing it all year," Minnesota's Torii Hunter said. "They irritate you until you blow up, and that's what we did. We blew up."

The Twins, who beat the A's in two potential elimination games to win the division series, say the experience has left them confident they can rally again.

"I think they're going to come out madder than hell," Gardenhire said.

More important, however, may be getting their offense going, having been held to seven runs and a .217 average in the first four games.

Hunter said he thought his teammates had gotten too "laid back" after winning the series opener. Mientkiewicz said: "We have to let it all hang out. I don't think we've done that the last couple games."

The Angels, by the way, have been here before, too. They were one strike from winning Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS and going to the World Series, but the Red Sox came back to win that game and the next two.

"We're not looking past (today's) game," Scioscia said. "We're going to do whatever we have to do."

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