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Angels mount workhorse Colon

Angels mount workhorse Colon for Game 1

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There is no mystery to choosing the Game 1 starter for the Angels; just hand the ball to your best pitcher, and that would be Bartolo Colon.

The club ace will take the hill on Tuesday with the American League's best record at 21-8 and a 3.48 ERA that is seventh best.

Colon was the backbone of the club in the second half, so much that with a month to go in the season, the right-hander began suffering stiffness and pain in his lower back that also affected his left leg. While his ERA soared about a run higher than his season mark, Colon still won four out of six starts.

An aggressive therapy routine kept Colon from missing a start and Thursday in Oakland, Colon went on short rest and allowed a run over five innings to post the winningest season of his nine-year career, while tying Nolan Ryan for the second most wins by an Angels starter.

There is a saying about wild horses and even a song lyric, but Colon made it clear he's taking the ball to open the playoffs for the Halos.

"I'm going to feel it throughout and even in the postseason," Colon said of his back. "I'm not worried about it. The mini-season that starts Tuesday will kick in the adrenaline and the pain for me or anyone on the team will be forgotten."

Colon was equally sharp in both halves of 2005, which provided a sharp contrast to last season when a bothersome left ankle limited him to a 6-8 mark and a 6.38 ERA before the All-Star break. But he rebounded in the second half last year to post a 12-4 record with a 3.63 ERA, and carried that momentum into this season.

He admitted feeling that he had let the organization down and vowed to come into this year in better shape. Colon backed that up to become the league's top starter, going 11-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 18 starts during the first half and 10-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 15 starts after the break.

Colon was at his best in August when he won five of six starts without a loss and posted a 1.72 ERA. He also walked four while striking out 28.

"Having Bart on the staff has made us all better," Paul Byrd said. "Just the way he goes about his business; I've learned a lot."

Colon has made seven career postseason starts with six of those coming in divisional play and one start in the 1998 ALCS with Cleveland. Last season, Colon started Game 2 of the ALDS against Boston and allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks over six innings for a no-decision.

Colon will be followed by right-hander John Lackey in Game 2, but the third starter remains undecided with left-hander Jarrod Washburn as a possibility, along with right-handers Paul Byrd and Ervin Santana. Colon would be available for a Game 5 start, if that becomes necessary.

"He's our horse; he's our lead dog," Scioscia said.

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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