ANAHEIM, California — A day after the Los Angeles Angels partied into the wee hours to celebrate their AL West title, a lineup composed of backups, Triple-A regulars, and a spot starter took on Felix Hernandez and the desperate Seattle Mariners.
And for eight innings, the Angels' junior varsity looked ready to pull out an unlikely win.
Instead, Logan Morrison hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth, and Seattle boosted its AL wild-card hopes with a 3-1 victory Thursday night.
With late night celebrations still ringing in their ears, several Angels got Thursday off, including Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Kole Calhoun and Erick Aybar. Manager Mike Scioscia also scratched ace Jered Weaver and handed the ball to Wade LeBlanc, who matched zeros with Hernandez into the sixth inning.
"I think it just sets some things up for what we want to do in our rotation moving forward this next week, and then getting ready for the first playoff series," Scioscia said. "It gives us the best shot to hopefully win the best record. It was something we felt strongly about doing, and Wade came through."
LeBlanc pitched three-hit ball in his second start for the major league-leading Angels, who are still playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their lead over Baltimore for the majors' best record is down to 2 1-2 games.
The Angels pulled Weaver about six hours before game time, pushing his next start back to Saturday to put him in line to start the AL division series opener on Oct. 2.
LeBlanc significantly improved on his only previous start for the Angels, a 7-1 loss to Miami on Aug. 25. LeBlanc cleared waivers and returned for the Angels' postseason push, making five solid relief appearances before striking out three Mariners and walking none.
"That's the life of a swingman, or a long reliever, or a spot starter," LeBlanc said. "I've been fortunate to do that in the past, so it wasn't anything new. Anytime they want to give me the ball, I'm ready for it."
Hernandez struck out 11 during seven innings of three-hit ball as the Mariners pulled within one game of the slumping Oakland Athletics for the second AL wild-card spot. Seattle still had to sweat out its third win in nine games, ending a 17-inning scoreless stretch with Morrison's ninth homer.
"Words can't describe that feeling," Morrison said. "I just know we're in a race, and we need every hit we can get. We need every run we can get. We need every win we can get. We've had some offensive struggles lately, but we've got a bunch of guys that don't know how to quit."
"We had to lure them into a false sense of security," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said with a grin.
"Everybody thinks that's easy (to face a lineup of unknowns)," McClendon added. "That's scary. It's hard to prepare. You read scouting reports, but you haven't had firsthand competition against them, so that makes it tough."
Tom Wilhelmsen (3-2) escaped a bases-loaded jam of his own making in the eighth.
Fernando Rodney allowed Hank Conger's homer in the ninth before finishing his 46th save, passing Kazuhiro Sasaki for the most in a single season in club history.
Angels: Cleanup hitter Josh Hamilton has a new pain in his upper body, and he sat out for the 13th time in 14 games. Scioscia hopes the injury is minor.