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K-Rod saves No. 60 in Angels' win

K-Rod saves No. 60 in Angels' win

ARLINGTON -- As if Francisco Rodriguez wasn't already in rarefied air as things stood entering Saturday, he sat in his locker following Saturday night's 7-3 victory at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington with the ball he used to notch save No. 60 resting on the top shelf.

"Believe it or not, that ball means a lot to me," Rodriguez said.

Granted, the save wasn't his most scintillating of the season. He entered with two on and two outs in the ninth inning and the Angels leading, 7-3. But when he coaxed Nelson Cruz into flying out to left field for the 27th out, No. 60 was in the books nevertheless.

And with every save he tacks on, Rodriguez inches closer and closer to Cy Young Award consideration. But he's not letting thoughts of hardware enter his consciousness.

"Not at all," Rodriguez said. "I'm so happy about the way things have been going. I mean, 60 [saves], 60 games. That's a lot of games. We have to keep going and keep winning."

How does he think his ever-growing saves record will be perceived by Cy Young voters?

"I'm sure I'll get consideration," Rodriguez said. "Will I win? That's out of my hands. If I win it, I win it."

Regardless of the perceived value in Rodriguez's record, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said there's no question as to the worth of having a closer who's willing to take the ball any time you hand it to him.

"It's a special year," Scioscia said. "I'm happy for him. It's been big for us. It's not just 60; it's having that guy to nail down the bullpen for us."

Along with Rodriguez, the Angels are nearing extraordinary territory.

With Saturday's victory, the Angels upped their lead in the American League West to 20 1/2 games and improved to a season-high 36 games over the .500 mark. With eight games left on the schedule, they're just five victories away from the franchise's first 100-win season.

Hero to 60
The Angels' Francisco Rodriguez extended his single-season save record to 60 on Saturday night, giving him 206 for his career. Here's how his 2008 total thus far compares to the best seasons for the top five career save leaders:
Player
Top Season
Career Saves
Trevor Hoffman 53 (1998) 552*
Mariano Rivera 53 (2004) 480*
Lee Smith 42 (1992, '93) 478
John Franco 39 (1988) 424
Dennis Eckersley 51 (1992) 390
*Through Saturday

"That's a pretty good team over there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They've got everything, pitching, they catch the ball and make the plays, they hit, they run the bases and they've got a good bullpen. When they have a chance to put the game away, they usually do it."

Just seven teams since divisional play began in 1969, four of which are from the American League, have won their respective divisions by at least 20 games.

With half of their eight remaining games against the second-place Rangers, the Angels basically have control of where their 20 1/2-game margin goes from here.

"We have eight games left, and we have the opportunity to accomplish everything in the regular season we want to accomplish this season, but not at the expense of setting ourselves back for what we hope our bigger goals are we hope to accomplish."

Saturday's victory combined with a loss by the White Sox guaranteed the Angels they will have home-field advantage in the American League Division Series.

"It's certainly important," Scioscia said. "It's good we have at least one step of what our total goal is for the season."

In addition to Rodriguez coming in for the save at the end, the Angels were lifted by some other familiar faces.

Vladimir Guerrero, who was back in the starting lineup for the first time since Sept. 12 due to inflammation in his right knee, left the game after hitting a double in the sixth inning. Fortunately for the Angels, it was only a precautionary measure.

"I was just going to work him back into the lineup," Scioscia said of Guerrero, who was 1-for-2 with a walk. "I'm probably going to DH him tomorrow."

In the designated hitter spot on Saturday was Garret Anderson, who put in a 3-for-4 effort with a two-run home run and three RBIs. Those three RBIs took him past George Brett on the all-time list against the Rangers with 157.

Brett had 155 in his career. Carl Yastrzemski is the only player with more RBIs against the Washington/Texas franchise with 166 in his career.

Anderson's third-inning home run was his 16th at Rangers Ballpark, which ranks him sixth all-time among opposing players.

Despite a .410 September batting average this season, he was homerless in the month prior to Saturday.

"He's been on a streak, and he got us going tonight," Scioscia said.

And Anderson's surge has epitomized how the Angels have found such uncanny success this season.

With players like Guerrero, Howie Kendrick, Chone Figgins and Juan Rivera missing significant time this month, players like Anderson have picked up their play. This fact hasn't been lost on the Angels' stopper, who's been performing at an elite level all season long.

"This ballclub has been tremendous," Rodriguez said. "I think we're where we need to be.

"The last time we made the playoffs, we had a lot of guys who weren't healthy. This year, even though we've battled injury, we have depth."

Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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