Oakland, Calif. With several top players sporting quiet offensive numbers this season, the Los Angeles Angels depended on their reliable defense and deep pitching staff to get them back to the playoffs.
And a little improvising didn't hurt, either.
Manager Mike Scioscia recently converted Kelvim Escobar into a reliever after the right-hander spent three stints on the disabled list for a right elbow injury that required surgery in June to shave down a bone chip and remove a bone spur.
"One thing that kept us afloat and kept our sanity was the way we were pitching and playing defense," Scioscia said. "We were able to stay positive and optimistic, because it wasn't going to take a lot of offense."
The Angels became the first American League team to clinch a postseason berth Tuesday night with their second straight 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics. Los Angeles needed only two victories in the four-game series to wrap up their second consecutive division crown, but against the A's that's never a gimme.
Now, the Angels believe they have the right mix to make a run at another World Series title after winning a ring in 2002 as a wild-card team loaded with dangerous bats.
"This is just a preview, man," said shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who won it all last October with the Boston Red Sox. "I think we can do more than this. Up to now, it's been a nice season. Going to the playoffs, hopefully we'll go all the way to the World Series and win it."
The Angels want to be considered a perennial contender in the same breath as the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees, and considering the quick work they made of the A's, they might be headed that way.
The Angels are in the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.
"To go to the playoffs, at this stage, after what we've done, we deserve this celebration," said catcher Bengie Molina, who homered in Tuesday's victory. "We got it done right away."