Angels bring A game, but A's don't

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It is often said, mostly by broadcasters who have more time to fill than salient details, that the most important moment in a baseball game can come at any time.

What they don't tell you, mostly because they are contractually obligated to yammer on about Fan Appreciation Fortnight or some other arglebargle, is that the earlier in the game that moment comes, the more danger one of the teams is in.

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the 2004 Oakland A's. Don't blink, or you may well miss them.

And conversely, we give you the 2004 Anaheim Angels, doing their best work when everyone is looking.

Friday's 10-0 Angels win was largely dramatic gristle, unworthy of chewing. Anaheim is one win away from advancing to the postseason and a date with either the Red Sox in Disneyland or the Twins in Minneapolis because Bartolo Colon brought his A game to the A's, and because the Angels all but formed a conga line to the plate in their haste to face whatever Athletics pitcher was working.

Most notably, and most troubling for the A's: Mark Mulder.

This was billed as the real showdown, two 17-game winners whose seasons weren't quite turning out the way they had hoped but who still had more to bring than anyone else on either side.

Only Colon brought his, and Mulder brought someone else's.

In fact, Mulder has been someone else for more than a month now, the presumptive Cy Young winner until about 40 pitchers passed him in September. He is slower, wilder and more vulnerable than he has ever been as a major leaguer, but he had been given this start based on his reputation and record. He would either bring it, or be brought down.

It was Option B, and in record time.

He lasted only two innings and 12 batters before being removed, his shortest outing in four years. Worse, though, Oakland manager Ken Macha had so little confidence in his ability to work his way out of trouble that he got rookie right-hander Joe Blanton up to throw after Mulder's 22nd pitch, a line-drive RBI single by Jose Molina.

Nothing more needed to be said, even though the rules required a full recitation of the differences between the two teams. The Angels not only drove Mulder from the game, but also mistreated three other Oakland pitchers to essentially suck the air out of a series that bristled with promise and tension only minutes before the national anthem.

Oh, Anaheim got all it's yah-yahs out, to be sure. Alfredo Amezaga hit his second grand slam of the year (he has 12 other hits in 86 other at-bats this year, so he picks his spots remarkably well), and Andres Galarraga hit his 399th career home run in the ninth inning.

Most importantly, the Angels now need only split the weekend to advance. They need either Kelvim Escobar or Jarrod Washburn, both working on short rest, to outduel, or outpunch, or just outlast Barry Zito and Tim Hudson to get back to the postseason they left so joyously in 2002.

Logic tells you they have a better chance Saturday, because Zito's year has been more problematic than Hudson's, because fate is not to be trifled with, and because everyone can use a day of rest.

But as the Cubs, Astros, Giants and yes, the A's will all tell you, logic has nothing to do with it. Figuring out the schedule and the pitching matchups and all the other boiler-plate prognostication tools are even less useful than usual, which means you're a step away from tourist-trap voodoo parlors.

Besides, this is the week in which Major League Baseball closed Quebec, got some loon to buy the Milwaukee Brewers, got Milton Bradley to hit 500 degrees Kelvin, saw Kyle Denney shot, and then see his injuries minimized because he was wearing cheerleader boots. The God in charge of baseball is doubled over in laughter at His/Her preposterous creativity, so you question possibilities at your own risk.

In other words, the deal ain't done until it's done.

But it's way better to be the Angels on Friday night. They chased Mark Mulder in two innings. They won the biggest game of their season by a touchdown and field goal. They are golden.

Until 4:10 ET. After that, all bets are off, if you know what's good for you.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com