Figgins Sets Table, Willits Cleans Up
With the Angels offense in downshift mode after a torrid three-week stretch to start July, Chone Figgins figured the 10th inning of Saturday night’s game against Kansas City was a good time to kick his game into overdrive.
Entering as a pinch-hitter with the score tied, Figgins drew a four-pitch walk from reliever Todd Wellemeyer to open the 10th inning, stole second, took third when catcher Paul Phillips’ throw bounced into center field and scored the winning run on Reggie Willits’ single to left-center field.
Closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a high-wire 10th, issuing two one-out walks before retiring Shane Costa on a soft liner to first base and striking out Angel Berroa to save a 4-3 victory over the Royals in Kauffman Stadium, ending the Angels’ three-game losing streak.
It was a night of firsts for Willits, who, in his first big league start, led off the game with his first major league hit, a single, scored his first run on Maicer Izturis’ triple and stole his first base in the seventh. Willits knocked in the player he was subbing for, Figgins, with his first game-winning run batted in.
It was not a night of firsts for the Angels offense, which managed only six hits and has reverted to its April-May-June form after hitting .322 with 24 home runs and 93 runs during its 13-1 run to start July.
The Angels, who are two games behind Oakland in the American League West, had six hits Friday and seven Thursday, both losses to the Royals. They’re batting .231 (32 for 138) with two home runs and 15 runs in their last four games, rekindling calls for them to acquire a power bat before the July 31 trade deadline.
“If we don’t change the dynamics of the team, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to reach our goal,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Obviously, our chances are better if we add a bat. The bottom line is the offense we’ve seen in the last three or four weeks is enough for us to reach our goal and go deep into the season.
“But it’s contingent on things that are not proven quantities, kids like Kendry Morales, Mike Napoli and Izturis. They’ve been holding their own so far, and that needs to continue. The scary thing is the injury that takes one guy away for three weeks or a month. That’s something we might not have the depth to absorb.”
The Angels can absorb a lack of offense if they pitch as they did Saturday, when Kelvim Escobar, despite developing a “huge” blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand, overcame a three-run, five-hit first to blank the Royals on four hits over the next six innings, and Scot Shields had two innings of scoreless relief.
They also have the ability to create offense outside the batter’s box, as Figgins did in the 10th inning. The Royals cracked the door open, and Figgins, who leads the AL with 38 stolen bases, busted through.
“If I got the opportunity, I was going to steal in that situation,” Figgins said. “It’s satisfying to get the opportunity to create things. In that situation, you can hit and run, bunt, bunt and run, or straight steal. There are so many things you can do.”
The Angels were also opportunistic in the seventh, when Morales walked, took third on Adam Kennedy’s ground-rule double and scored on reliever Ambiorix Burgos’ wild pitch to tie the score, 3-3.
That took Escobar, who said his blister shouldn’t hinder his next start, off the hook and left the game in the usually reliable hands of Shields, who blanked the Royals in the eighth despite giving up a leadoff single to Joey Gathright, and Rodriguez, who gave the Angels a little scare before recording his 24th save.
“I was just missing my spots and getting behind in the counts,” Rodriguez said. “With the game on the line I had to find a way to get on track. I worked on throwing my breaking ball for first-pitch strikes, got ahead, and put them away.”