Angels open with enough on the ball

Times Staff Writer

A Clockwork Red, it wasn’t. There was a bullpen blip and more than one defensive slip. But the Angels culled enough from their 2007 blueprint for success to forge a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in the season opener in front of a sellout crowd of 43,906 in Angel Stadium.

There was a gutsy start by John Lackey, who survived two errors and a 31-pitch third inning to keep the Angels in front and was rewarded with a victory for his five-inning, four-hit effort, in which he gave up one unearned run, struck out five and walked four.

There was a lights-out performance by the Angels late-inning relief trio -- Justin Speier needed 16 pitches to breeze through the sixth and seventh innings, Scot Shields blew through the Rangers in the eighth and Francisco Rodriguez retired the side in order in the ninth for the save.

And there was just enough offense provided by the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, who doubled home a run in the first inning; Casey Kotchman, who hit a solo home run in the second; Maicer Izturis, who singled home a run in the fifth, and Shea Hillenbrand, who followed Garret Anderson’s eighth-inning double with a run-scoring single.


“That’s the way we drew it up,” Shields said. “The starter gives up one and hands it over to us.”

Well, it wasn’t that seamless. Darren Oliver, the left-hander signed to shore up the middle relief corps, replaced Lackey to start the sixth with a 3-1 lead, and quicker than you can say J.C. Romero, the tying runs were on, Hank Blalock with a single and Brad Wilkerson with a walk.

Manager Mike Scioscia summoned Speier, who paid immediate dividends on the Angels’ four-year, $18-million investment in the right-hander. Gerald Laird popped a sacrifice bunt attempt to Speier for an out, and Ian Kinsler lined into an inning-ending double play.

Shields, who signed a four-year, $18-million deal last week, struck out two of three in the eighth, and the Rangers went down quietly against Rodriguez in the ninth.


“The story tonight was really the bullpen,” Scioscia said. “We’re not going to be able to get 12 outs a night from Justin, Scot and Frankie. We’ll get more length from our starters, and we’ll have to. Tonight was one of those nights we needed all three of those guys, and they came through in a big way.”

So did Gary Matthews Jr., whose eventful Angels debut included two outstanding catches in center field, robbing the Rangers of at least three runs, one flubbed fly ball in right-center field that almost cost the Angels dearly, a walk and a run in the first inning and a single in the seventh.

“You look at Gary Matthews,” Scioscia said, “and you see a difference maker.”

Some nifty glove work got Lackey out of a first-inning jam, as new second baseman Howie Kendrick ranged to his right to turn Michael Young’s one-hopper with two on into a double play, and Matthews raced to the wall to make a leaping catch of Mark Teixeira’s drive to end the inning.


After the play, Lackey could be seen on television shouting, “That’s why we got him!”

But in the third, the Angels reverted to their 2006 form, when they ranked last in the league with a .979 fielding percentage, committed an American League-high 122 errors and gave up 80 unearned runs.

Kinsler led off with a foul pop behind the plate, but catcher Mike Napoli overran the play and dropped the ball in front of the screen for an error. Kinsler lined Lackey’s next pitch for a home run, pulling the Rangers within 2-1.

Kenny Lofton struck out, Frank Catalanotto grounded out and Lackey appeared out of the inning when Young lofted a routine fly to right-center field. But Matthews took his eye off the ball, which clanked off his glove for an error.


Teixeira and Sammy Sosa walked to load the bases, and after fouling off two full-count pitches, Blalock flared a drive to shallow center. Matthews got a late jump but sprinted in to make a sliding catch, ending the inning and saving two runs.

“He made two terrific plays for me,” Lackey said. “Those might have won the game.”