ARLINGTON -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia doesn't discount the potential importance of home-field advantage in the playoffs. But since his team locked up the American League West title on Sunday, Scioscia has made it clear his priorities for the season's final week lie elsewhere. In the manager's mind, taking a well-rested, physically fit and mentally fresh team into the postseason far outweighs whether those players are wearing home whites or road grays when the Division Series begins next week. And so it was that a handful of key players again sat out Tuesday in what wound up a second consecutive loss to Texas, 3-1, before 30,708 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. At 92-66, the Angels now trail both the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians in the chase for the league's best record. Home field is a goal worthy of pursuit, Scioscia acknowledged, but not at the cost of taking a beaten-up and worn-out squad into October.
"It's nice to have home field, where you're comfortable," Scioscia said. "But not at the expense of not having your whole team to compete going into it." Scioscia pointed out that, as the league's Wild Card entry in 2002, the Angels won their first two playoff series without having the home-field advantage. They defeated the New York Yankees in a four-game Division Series and overcame the Minnesota Twins in a five-game American League Championship Series to win their first AL pennant. The Angels did have home-field advantage in the 2002 World Series against San Francisco, the last year that World Series home field alternated annually between the leagues. Scioscia's team fed off the home atmosphere to take the decisive seventh game in Anaheim, 4-1. The Angels clinched their 2002 postseason berth on Sept. 26, three days later than they did this year. And Scioscia intends to put that cushion to good use by resting tired regulars and utilizing spot starters to line up the optimal playoff starting rotation. "In '02, we had four days [at season's end], and this year we have seven," Scioscia said. "It's important to take advantage of it." So it was that on Tuesday, sluggers Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson watched their team's second consecutive loss from the bench and reliever Dustin Moseley was pressed into service as the starting pitcher. Moseley did fine, opening the game with four scoreless innings before being pulled after 63 pitches. The offense, however, couldn't mask its lack of firepower, scoring only on the first Major League home run of Erick Aybar's career. "Tonight, we didn't have a lot going, offensively," Scioscia conceded. "But it was good to see Erick get a hold of one." Aybar's homer -- a 362-foot shot over the left-field scoreboard wall -- came with one out in the fifth against Rangers left-hander A.J. Murray, who gave up one run over five innings in his first Major League start. Left-hander Darren Oliver relieved Moseley and pitched a scoreless fifth against his former team, before coughing up three runs in the sixth to take the loss. The Rangers' winning rally began with a single by Ian Kinsler, who advanced to second on a groundout by Michael Young and to third on a broken-bat infield single by Marlon Byrd. Facing Hank Blalock with runners on the corners and one out, Oliver was charged with a balk that scored the tying run and moved Byrd to second base. "The balk is something that should be cleaned up," Scioscia said. "He started and stopped, and I don't know if there was confusion about the pitch location or what happened. I want to see what caused it. He's usually very calm out there." Oliver (3-1) took responsibility for the game-tying gaffe. "I kind of jumped a little bit," said the 14-year veteran. "It was my fault. I don't know when the last time I balked was, but it's been a while." It was in 2001, to be exact, Oliver's last season with the Rangers. Whether unsettled by the balk or just getting sloppy, Oliver got a 2-2 count on Blalock, but couldn't put him away. The Rangers' DH lined a single to right that scored Byrd with the go-ahead run. "Oliver tried to sneak a fastball past Hank," Rangers manager Ron Washington said, "and that's like trying to get cheese past a rat." There was one redeeming element to Oliver's night. It was his 60th appearance this season, triggering his $2 million option to return next season. "Guess you guys are just stuck with me for another year," he told reporters with a wry smile. Scot Shields replaced Oliver and struck out Jason Botts for the second out of the sixth. But rookie David Murphy victimized Shields with an RBI single to right, scoring Blalock for a 3-1 lead and the game's final run. Sensitive to perception that the Angels are conceding home-field advantage, Scioscia said Anderson would return to the outfield for Wednesday's series finale, and Guerrero -- a career .415 hitter against Texas -- would probably DH. "We're trying to win every game," Scioscia said. "We scored seven runs without those guys [in Monday's 8-7 loss]. We're not giving anything away." The Angels are idle on Thursday, giving Guerrero more time to rest the strained triceps of his right arm. Guerrero reported no discomfort after throwing lightly from about 90 feet before Tuesday's game. Scioscia said the right fielder will probably extend that throwing distance to 120-160 feet on Friday as he continues incremental steps toward returning to the field for the playoffs. Wherever they will begin.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.