ANAHEIM -- At the end of the second inning of their final road game of the season, the Mariners realized it would be extremely difficult to keep the Angels' champagne on ice for a third consecutive day. Only once all season had right-hander Jeff Weaver won a game when he was behind by at least three runs. That happened against the White Sox on Aug. 18, after he staked Chicago to a three-run lead by the fourth inning at Safeco Field before the Mariners roared back and won. But coming from behind against Angels right-hander John Lackey offered much more of a challenge, one that didn't materialize on a sunny Sunday afternoon as Seattle was mathematically eliminated from the American League West race with a 7-4 loss to the champions in front of a sellout crowd of 44,234 at Angel Stadium.
Making matters worse, the Yankees won again, meaning one more New York victory, or a Seattle loss, would eliminate the Mariners from the AL Wild Card race. Several of the Mariners, along with manager John McLaren, stuck around after pinch-hitter Jeremy Reed flied to left field for the game-ending out to watch the Angels celebrate their third division title in the past four seasons. "That's where you want to be, right in the middle of the field jumping on each other," McLaren said. "That's what it is all about and I want that day to come soon for us." The Angels (92-64) are champs of the West for several reasons. They had a 13-6 record in head-to-head games against the Mariners, and sailed through the Interleague Play portion of the schedule with a 14-4 record. Seattle (83-72) was 9-9 against National League teams. "To me, those were the big differences," McLaren said. Even on a day the Mariners finally scored off Lackey, it wasn't enough to prevent the Angels from finally opening the champagne bottles that had been on ice since Thursday night. The Mariners delayed the inevitable with wins on Friday and Saturday. A hint came early, while some of the red-clad fans were still arriving. Casey Kotchman led off the second inning with a towering home run into the right-field bleachers -- his first since going deep on July 1 against the Orioles in Baltimore -- to put the Angels in front. Weaver then walked Gary Matthews Jr. on four pitches and served up another home run ball, this one to Maicer Izturis on a fastball that was about chin high. "I couldn't believe he got on top of it the way he did," Weaver said. "It wasn't a bad pitch as much as it was a good piece of hitting." Regardless, it provided a nice start for Lackey, who entered the game with a 3-0 record and 0.00 ERA in three starts against the Mariners this season. His scoreless streak against them reached 28 innings before Seattle broke through in the fifth inning. Ben Broussard, 6-for-34 with no home runs and one RBI since Sept. 10, reached on a leadoff double, went to third on an infield out, and scored on Jose Lopez's single to right field. The second of Broussard's doubles drove in Seattle's second run of the game in the sixth inning, cutting the Angels' lead to 3-2. But any hopes of coming all the way back, and winning the series, blew up in the bottom of the sixth when the Angels scored two more runs. Both were charged to Weaver, who tore the nail on the middle finger of his pitching hand and lost command of some of his pitches. "It happened in the fourth inning when I threw a cut fastball and it gradually got worse," Weaver (7-13) said. "It affected my sinker more than anything." After Matthews struck out to start the inning, Izturis singled to center and Howie Kendrick was hit by a pitch. Weaver departed and right-hander Sean Green came in. He walked the first batter he faced before Chone Figgins hit a sacrifice fly, and Orlando Cabrera singled to right field to build the Angels' lead back up to three runs. Weaver said he expected to make his final scheduled start Saturday at Safeco Field against the Rangers. "I don't think it will," McLaren said when asked if the injury could keep Weaver from starting, "but we'll just have to play it by ear and see how he is tomorrow." The Mariners needed a win on Sunday to finish the season with a break-even record on the road. Instead, they were 39-41 away from Safeco Field, where they put the finishing touches on the season with a seven-game homestand beginning Tuesday night in the opener of a four-game series against the AL Central Division champion Indians. Perhaps by then, the picture of the Angels celebrating a championship the Mariners wanted will have dissipated. "They are a good ballclub," McLaren said, adding that Angels manager Mike Scioscia "and his staff did a good job. They have good players and I wish them the best of luck. We know the work we have to do to catch these guys." Wait till next year.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.