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Angels Still Hitting and Streaking

Times Staff Writer

At this rate, maybe the Angels can spin off some of their excess bats in a trade for a pitcher to bolster the middle-relief corps.

Funny how quickly things change, isn’t it?

Four weeks ago the Angels, seven games out of first place and eight games under .500, were so desperate for a power bat that owner Arte Moreno, General Manager Bill Stoneman, Manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black convened in Arizona for a summit meeting to explore ways to bolster their sagging offense.

Tuesday night, the Angels continued to ride the crest of an offensive renaissance, busting out for five fourth-inning runs in a 7-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Angel Stadium, surviving a ninth-inning scare to win for the 13th time in 14 July games and extend their win streak to a season-best eight.

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Left-hander Joe Saunders, called up from triple-A Salt Lake to start in place of the injured Kelvim Escobar, threw seven strong innings, giving up two runs -- one earned -- and four hits, as the Angels improved to 48-45 and remained a half-game behind first-place Oakland in the American League West.

The offense got contributions from all sectors, with eight of the Angels’ nine starters collecting hits, including a pair of solo home runs by Juan Rivera, who is batting .373 (19 for 51) with seven homers and 14 RBIs in 14 games this month.

Rivera connected off starter Cliff Lee in the sixth inning and reliever Brian Sikorski in the eighth, providing two insurance runs that proved to be the difference when reliever Kevin Gregg struggled in the ninth, giving up four consecutive two-out singles that enabled the Indians to pull to within 7-4 and bring the tying run to the plate.

Francisco Rodriguez replaced Gregg and gave up an RBI single to Grady Sizemore that made it 7-5, but with runners on first and third, Rodriguez got pinch-hitter Todd Hollandsworth to fly to right to end the game for his 23rd save.

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“If there’s one thing you can point to in the last three or four weeks, it’s Juan Rivera,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “The guy’s been on fire and given our offense a deeper look.”

Orlando Cabrera doubled to spark the fourth-inning rally, and Vladimir Guerrero, who is batting .459 (28 for 61) with four homers and 15 runs batted in in his last 15 games, added an RBI single in the fourth.

Veteran designated hitter Tim Salmon, reduced to a bit player because of Rivera’s hot streak, started for only the second time in 13 games and contributed an RBI double in the fourth, and rookie second baseman Howie Kendrick added a two-run single.

Overall, the Angels are batting .322 (156 for 485) with 24 home runs and 93 runs in their past 14 games, an average of 6.6 a game.

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The Angels backed Saunders with impeccable middle-infield defense, turning five double plays, two started by Kendrick and three by Cabrera, including a highlight-reel effort by the shortstop in the fifth.

Aaron Boone walked to open the inning, and Kelly Shoppach followed with a shot up the middle that looked like a sure single.

Shoppach, meet the Shop-Vac.

Cabrera made a diving stop to his left and, while still on the ground, shoveled the ball with his glove to Kendrick, who fired to first to complete the double play.

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“I threw a lot of two-seam fastballs down in the zone, hoping they’d hit it on the ground,” Saunders said. “The defense made the plays.”

Saunders, pitching in front of 15-20 scouts, many representing teams in need of starting pitching before the July 31 trade deadline, gave up only two hits after the first inning.

He called his first big league win “special,” but like fellow pitcher Dustin Moseley on Monday night, Saunders had no time revel in the victory -- he was optioned back to Salt Lake after the game so the Angels could recall another position player, outfielder Reggie Willits, before activating Escobar on Saturday.

“It’s a little disconcerting,” Saunders said, “but this rotation is so good, I’m not going to crack it unless someone gets hurt.”

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