SEATTLE -- Roughly half the club gathered around the big-screen clubhouse TV showing the movie "Training Day" with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, while the other half assembled in the dining room to check out the Yankees and Tigers in New York. It was, in short, business as usual for the Angels late Monday afternoon as they got ready for a three-game series with the Mariners that represented a late-August show of force in the American League West. Seattle came in trailing the Angels by two games while leading the AL Wild Card race by two games over the Yankees. The Angels have the second-best record in the Majors, behind Boston, with the Mariners third.
"Whether we're playing the Mariners or any club -- like Toronto yesterday -- every game is big and is going to be magnified until the end of the season," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're down to the last 30 or so games. Every game's going to have more value. No game right now is life or death. There's importance to every game we're going to play, whether it's Seattle or Texas." Yet, there undeniably is more interest than usual attached to a showdown of the top two teams in a division with five weeks left. The Angels held the upper hand coming in, having won eight of 12 meetings with Seattle this season. They have four games left, Sept. 20-23 at Angel Stadium, after the completion of this series. By then, life and death in the division race could be more of a reality. "There's going to be more of an impact if you win or lose," Scioscia said of the series, "but it doesn't change your challenge. Whatever the combination is going to be -- somebody sweeps, you win one or two -- it isn't going to be life or death. "I don't think you want to put a tag on a game. That's going to be a distraction." As a player and manager, Scioscia's approach to big games and big series has yielded impressive results. Catching for the Dodgers in the 1980s, he played in three League Championship Series and prevailed twice, moving on to the World Series in 1981 and '88 -- winning both times. His first postseason experience as a manager in 2002 produced the Angels' only World Series, and it was a triumph over the Giants in seven games. He's 15-14 in postseason play as a manager, having won four of six series. Scioscia doesn't believe in the concept of players elevating their performances during big games; that kind of thinking, he maintains, can cause them to try to do too much. He feels those who are able to keep things as normal as possible and play the game naturally under pressurized circumstances are the ones who thrive. Entrusting leadership to cool veterans such as Garret Anderson, Orlando Cabrera and Vladimir Guerrero is the best way, Scioscia feels, to keep the clubhouse upbeat and prevent big-game pressures from taking a toll. Incidentally, "Training Day" -- and the Tigers -- were drawing rave reviews. Kotchman, Figgins improving: First baseman Casey Kotchman and third baseman Chone Figgins are limited to spot duty, at best, during these three games. But both felt good to get back on the field and handle some infield activities on Monday. Kotchman's left thumb and middle finger remain discolored and sensitive after his hand got in the way of a Mariano Rivera cutter last Wednesday. But Casey, in addition to taking grounders and playing catch, took by his count 15 to 20 swings off a tee and said it "felt fine." He felt he'd be able to play some defense if necessary. "Pick up the pieces and start over -- again," Kotchman said of his latest physical challenge, coming on the heels of his mid-June concussion. "It's happened before. Get it back going again, that's what I'm trying to do." Figgins was cheered by his ability to take ground balls. When he injured his left wrist taking a swing in the same series against the Yankees, the night before Kotchman was hurt, Figgins initially feared it was much worse than a bruised bone, as it turned out to be. "It's getting better every day," Figgins said. "I could play defense now, and I definitely can [pinch-run]. That's made my career, running." Scioscia has been happy with the play of Maicer Izturis at third and Kendry Morales at first in the absence of the two big guns. Minor sensations: Terry Evans homered and doubled and Brandon Wood, Nick Gorneault and Casey Smith each had three hits in a 10-7 decision by Triple-A Salt Lake over Colorado Springs on Sunday. Sean O'Sullivan worked eight scoreless, three-hit innings, striking out five while walking one in a 1-0 loss by Class A Cedar Rapids to Quad Cities. Sullivan shaved his ERA to 2.07 and is 10-6 with 124 strikeouts and 39 walks in 152 1/3 innings. For Class A Rancho Cucamonga, southpaw Blake Holler worked six scoreless innings, striking out six, in a 2-0 loss in 10 innings to San Jose. Holler was promoted from Cedar Rapids, where he was 3-3 with a 3.41 ERA, striking out 63 in 66 innings. Aug. 27 in Angels history: In 2000, Tim Salmon homered in a 10-9 Angel Stadium win at the expense of Cleveland's Chuck Finley, making the Angels the first team in AL history to have four players with 30 or more homers. Salmon joined Troy Glaus, Mo Vaughn and Garret Anderson. Glaus also homered against Finley, his 37th. Up next: Ervin Santana (5-12, 6.03 ERA) faces ex-Angel Jeff Weaver (6-10, 5.51 ERA) on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. PT.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.