ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) A– After grinding out another critical victory behind Paul Byrd’s solid pitching, the Los Angeles Angels were in a somber mood. They were mourning the death of their team chaplain, Chuck Obremski, who fought cancer for two years.
“I think it was amazing that he died the minute we took the field,” Byrd said yesterday after beating the Detroit Tigers 5-3. “I usually take the field at :03, :04, and I was getting ready to go. But Darin Erstad wasn’t ready, so it kind of threw me off a little bit.
“We took the field at :05, and that was the exact minute he died. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not, but it was powerful. It was nice that we won and were able to dedicate the game to him.”
Obremski, 48, presided over the regular Sunday chapel services in both clubhouses during Angels homestands for several years, right up to the final game of the previous homestand. After the Angels won their only world championship in 2002, they gave him a World Series ring the following Easter Sunday.
Everyone around the league knew how weak he was and how difficult it was for him to do his job, but they all marveled at the way he never gave in to his illness.
“His goal was to last through the season – and in my mind, he did,” Byrd said. “He had battled cancer for a couple of years, and he didn’t feel sorry for himself. He finished strong and went out with a lot of courage and went out fighting, and that’s what we want to do as members of the Angels. We want to finish strong on the field.”
Erstad and Juan Rivera each drove in two runs and Vladimir Guerrero hit an RBI double, helping the first-place Angels maintain their two-game lead over Oakland in the AL West.
Byrd (12-10) allowed a run and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out six and walking one. The right-hander worked with runners on base in each of the first five innings, giving up his only run on a double-play grounder by Brandon Inge with the bases loaded in the fifth.
Byrd is 3-1 with a 0.91 ERA over his last four starts after going 0-4 with a 5.40 ERA in his previous seven outings.
“I love the pressure, and I love that every game counts,” he said. “I’ve been on last-place teams and first-place teams, and this is what it’s all about. Coming down the wire, every pitch means something and you can’t take anything for granted. It’s very exciting. I think all of our guys have really turned it up a notch.”
Detroit center fielder Curtis Granderson, batting leadoff so that second baseman Placido Polanco could rest a sore right shoulder, was 5-for-5 with a first-inning double to set a career high for hits.
“I haven’t had enough time up here to go ahead and say, ‘Hey, yeah, I belong.’ I’ve only had a little scratch of the surface,” Granderson said. “I was put in the leadoff role a little more this season in Triple-A in about 50 percent of the games. At first it was more of a mental thing. But then I just start to think, I’m only going to lead off one time.”
In Thursday’s 8-6 victory over the Angels, the 24-year-old rookie hit a three-run, inside-the-park homer and robbed Bengie Molina of a home run. In 33 games, Granderson is hitting .318 with six homers and 16 RBIs.
“He’s an incredible young player,” Byrd said. “I was unfamiliar with him, but I threw everything everywhere, and he was on it.”
Scot Shields came on in the ninth for his 72nd appearance this season, tying the Angels’ record set in 1967 by Minnie Rojas. He gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter Dmitri Young before Francisco Rodriguez got two outs for his 38th save in 43 tries.
Matt Ginter (0-1) allowed five runs and 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings in his first start for the Tigers after 13 relief appearances. He got the assignment in place of Nate Robertson, who is 0-4 with a 9.41 ERA in his last four starts and 6-14 overall. Robertson complained of fatigue in his shoulder after giving up seven runs and seven hits over three innings in a 9-3 home loss to Minnesota last Tuesday night.
Ginter was a full-time reliever with the White Sox before the Mets converted him into a starter last year. The right-hander did both this season with Detroit’s Triple-A Toledo club, going 4-3 with a 5.09 ERA in 10 starts for the International League champion Mud Hens.
A couple days ago, Tigers manager Alan Trammell said Ginter was best suited for middle relief, as opposed to starting. The Angels helped drive that point home with a three-run first, including Guerrero’s RBI double, a run-scoring groundout by Erstad and Rivera’s RBI single.