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Saturday, October 15, 2005
Santana can't recreate mound magic in loss

Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Rookie Ervin Santana couldn't get key outs, and the Los Angeles Angels couldn't get key hits.

So now, the Angels are in a 3-1 hole in the AL Championship Series.

Santana pitched 5 1/3 strong innings in relief of injured ace Bartolo Colon in the Angels' victory over New York last Monday night in the deciding game of the AL Division Series.

But the White Sox got to the 22-year-old right-hander early in Game 4 of the ALCS, taking the lead for good on Paul Konerko's three-run homer in the first and going on to an 8-2 victory Saturday night.

"I go out there and try to do my best. They beat me," Santana said. "After the first inning, I got my command."

By that time, it was too late.

Regarding Konerko, Santana said: "He's a professional hitter. I tried to make my pitches. He just hit it."

Santana thought Konerko went around on a 2-2 pitch that first base umpire Ed Rapuano ruled a checked swing.

"I thought it was a strike. That's up to the umpires," Santana said.

Konerko homered on the next pitch.

The Angels managed only two runs and six hits off Freddy Garcia, giving them eight runs and 22 hits in the series. Garcia followed up the outstanding efforts of White Sox starters Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland with one of his own.

"Very obviously, they've pitched well -- not making mistakes, living on the corners," Angels cleanup hitter Garret Anderson said.

Paul Byrd, who pitched six effective innings in a 3-2 victory in the opener, tries to keep the Angels alive Sunday against Contreras, the loser in Game 1.

The Angels haven't won since that game. Now, they can't afford another loss.

"We need to obviously do more on the offensive end and pitch to the point where we get some of our bullpen guys in the game at the right time," manager Mike Scioscia said, adding that a most positive aspect of the Angels' situation is they're only a three-game winning streak away from playing in the World Series.

Santana, who pitched a five-hit shutout against the White Sox on May 23 in his second big league start, lasted only 4 1/3 innings in this game, allowing six runs on three hits, three walks and a hit batsman.

He had problems from the start, walking leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik after getting ahead 0-2, and hitting Tadahito Iguchi with a pitch.

After Jermaine Dye flied to deep center to move the runners to second and third, Konerko hit Santana's 18th pitch over the left-center field fence, making it two straight games that he homered on a full-count pitch in the first. His two-run shot on John Lackey's 12th pitch Saturday night also gave the White Sox a 3-0 lead and they went on to a 5-2 victory.

By the time the first inning was over, Santana had thrown 34 pitches -- 27 more than Garcia needed to retire the Angels in their half of the first.

Santana was later charged with three more runs, two earned. One of the runs came on a solo homer to center by A.J. Pierzynski in the fourth.

Santana, 12-8 with a 4.65 ERA during the season, pitched 6 2/3 strong innings Sept. 27 when the Angels beat Oakland 4-3 to clinch their second straight AL West championship. He didn't work against the Yankees until the 5-3 victory in the final game of the division series, and is filling Colon's spot against the White Sox.

Leadoff hitter Chone Figgins went 0-for-4 to make him 1-for-14 with one walk in the series.

That's no way to start a rally.

"Nobody feels this harder than Figgy, and nobody tries harder than Figgy and that's probably part of the reason for him banging his head against the wall is he doesn't know how to back down," Scioscia said.

Figgins said he hasn't changed his approach.

"It's part of baseball," he said of his slump. "We've got another game to play. We're going to go out and play hard like we do every day."

Hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said he doesn't believe the Angels look comfortable at the plate. Maybe that explains why they've hit very few balls hard in the last three games.

"I don't have answers for it," Hatcher said. "I just don't see a confidence level. They're playing hard, they're competing. Everything's fine. Right now, we're just not clicking in the game. It's happened to our team a lot."

It's happening now at the worst possible time.

Vladimir Guerrero, Anderson and Bengie Molina, the Angels' three best hitters during the season, are a combined 5-for-44 with three RBI.

Guerrero, the reigning AL MVP, was booed after grounding to short to open the fourth. He went hitless in four at-bats and is now 1-for-16. Anderson was 1-for-4 and is 2-for-15, and Molina was 1-for-3 and is 2-for-13.