It’s Come Down To 1 M’S Face Angels For A.L. West Title

The California Angels’ dramatic collapse and the Seattle Mariners’ equally dramatic charge are history.

Remaining is one game between them this afternoon in the Kingdome, with the winner taking the A.L. West title and moving into the playoffs against the wild card New York Yankees.

“It will be nice to win it in front of the home folks,” Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. “We’ve got a darn good pitcher and a team that plays darn good baseball. We’re still in great shape.”

The Angels, who lost the 11-game division lead they held on Aug. 9 and were virtually left for dead as recently as last Tuesday, rallied to win the last five games on their schedule - including an 8-2 victory over Oakland on Sunday.

The Mariners, who stormed ahead after being 13 games behind California on Aug. 2, lost their three-game lead over the past five days. Their second straight loss at Texas, 9-3 on Sunday, opened the door for the Angels to draw even at 78-66.

“If someone said in spring training that you could play one game at the end of the year that would decide first place, everybody would jump at the chance,” the Angels’ Jim Edmonds said.

In just the eighth regular-season playoff in baseball history and the first since 1980, Mark Langston (15-6) is scheduled to pitch for the Angels against Major League strikeout and ERA leader Randy Johnson (17-2).

California is 7-5 against Seattle this season, but the teams have split the six games at the Kingdome.

Langston, who began his major-league career with the Mariners, has a 4-6 record against them with a 4.72 ERA and is 1-0 this year. Johnson, who came to the Mariners in a deal that sent Langston to Montreal, is 9-5 against California, 2-1 this season, with a 3.03 ERA. He tops the majors this year with 282 strikeouts and a 2.54 ERA.

“Randy is the best pitcher in baseball,” the Mariners’ Vince Coleman said. “They’ll be very defensive against a guy like him. He’ll be hyped. The beer tastes better at our place anyway.”

Langston, a three-time A.L. strikeout champ with the M’s, said he was excited.

“This is what it’s all about,” he said. “There’s nothing better than to be in a situation like this, when you’re going up against the best pitcher in the league.

“I think everybody in this clubhouse has imagined themselves in that situation while they were growing up. Whether you’re playing baseball or shooting baskets or whatever, you always prepare yourself for an opportunity to have a chance like this.”

California second baseman Rex Hudler, who went 11 for 15 as the Angels swept four games from the Athletics, said he thought the Mariners might be feeling some heat.

“I think they’ve got to be a little nervous,” Hudler said. “If we can get some runs early, we may be off and running.”

California DH Chili Davis said there could be an early indication of how the game’s going to go: “We’ll watch his first pitch and hope he’s not on. Then we’ll watch Mark’s first pitch and hope he’s on … and we’re on.”

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