The Vladiator. The Man from Vlad. Vlad the Impaler. Take your pick of nicknames for Vladimir Guerrero -- they all seem to apply on days like Thursday, when the Angel right fielder banged out four hits to lead his new team to a 12-3 thrashing of the Detroit Tigers in front of 20,678 in Comerica Park.
Guerrero, who signed a five-year, $70-million deal with the Angels in January, doubled to left-center in the first inning, smashed his sixth home run of the season to left in the third, singled in a run during an eight-run fourth and singled in the sixth, finishing a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.
Darin Erstad added two hits and four runs batted in, and Jose Guillen capped the fourth-inning outburst with a three-run home run to provide a considerable cushion for left-hander Jarrod Washburn, who was superb during an eight-inning performance in which he gave up three runs and nine hits, struck out six and walked none.
Guerrero had a chance to hit for the cycle for the second time in his career -- the former Montreal Expo star did it last Sept. 14 against the Mets -- and move to within one of the major league record for hitting for the cycle, which three players have done three times.
But reliever Gary Knotts threw Guerrero three breaking balls in the dirt in the seventh, and not even the player Tiger Manager Alan Trammell called "one of the best bad-ball hitters ever" could connect.
Guerrero struck out, and with the Angels holding an eight-run lead at the time, Guerrero recovering from a knee injury and the Angels heading to Minnesota for three games on artificial turf, Manager Mike Scioscia pulled Guerrero in the bottom of the seventh for Jeff DaVanon.
"It would have been fun to do it again, but it makes you feel a little better knowing you've hit for the cycle before," Guerrero said through an interpreter. "Clearly, I'm feeling much better. My knee is starting to respond better. The more I see the league, the more information on pitchers I have. And the hits are starting to fall now."
The Angels are 6-1 since cleanup batter Garret Anderson went down with an upper-back injury, and Guerrero has played an important role, with a pair of three-hit games and Thursday's four-hit game during that span.
"He's one of the best players in baseball, and we're just trying to fill in around him and help out," Erstad said. "Especially with G.A. out, he stepped up huge today."
Scioscia believes that Guerrero, who is batting .322 with a team-leading 17 runs and 15 runs batted in, is heating up as he grows more comfortable in Anaheim and gets used to a new league and new parks. But the manager also admitted, "It seems like he's been hot his whole career."
"I thought Vlad came into the season pretty comfortable," Washburn said. "He sees a pitch he likes, he swings hard at it, and it's usually the first or second pitch. I think he's enjoying it here. There hasn't been much of a breaking-in period."
Washburn has enjoyed having Guerrero around. In Washburn's five starts, Guerrero is 12 for 21 with three homers and eight RBIs, which is indicative of the support Washburn (4-1) has received. The Angels have scored 46 runs in Washburn's five games, an average of 9.2 a game.
"It's great, man, I love it," Washburn said. "I hope it lasts the rest of my career. I'm learning to pitch with big leads. I'm not going to complain. I'll take 12 runs every time out. I'm sure there will be times when I'll have to step up and win a 2-1 or 1-0 game. It will even out."
Unlike his last start, when he had walked five in five innings against Oakland last Friday, Washburn was in command throughout Thursday. Of his 113 pitches, 81 were strikes. He threw four shutout innings against a Tiger lineup that had pounded the Angels for 10 runs Wednesday night and gave up single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh.
"It definitely helps when you don't give any free passes," Washburn said. "This is a big step in the right direction."