Angels tap old power source
OAKLAND -- The first one was a high-arc shot that barely cleared the left-field fence. The second was a towering blast that left no doubt, landing halfway up the seats beyond the scoreboard in left-center.
With two swings of his mighty bat Thursday night at McAfee Coliseum, Vladimir Guerrero restored his standing as one of the most feared sluggers in baseball.
The All-Star game Home Run Derby champion, who had been mired in the longest power outage of his career, homered twice and drove in four runs to propel the Angels to a 6-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
“You can’t call him Wilton anymore,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia joked, referring to Guerrero’s light-hitting brother.
After failing to homer in 30 games and 125 at-bats, Guerrero homered in consecutive at-bats off Oakland starter Chad Gaudin. He gingerly laid his bat to rest while tracking the flight of his first homer, a solo shot leading off the fourth inning.
Guerrero pointed skyward upon reaching home plate and broke into a wide smile as he reached the dugout, where his teammates initially gave him the silent treatment before mobbing him with pats on the back in celebration of his first homer since an eighth-inning blast June 23 against Pittsburgh.
“I knew the next time I hit a home run, they were going to do something weird,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “It’s good when you give your teammates something to cheer for.”
His reaction was more businesslike in the fifth after his 16th homer, a three-run shot that supplied Guerrero with his first multi-homer game of the season and the 30th of his career. Guerrero popped out to first baseman Nick Swisher in the seventh and struck out chasing a pitch in the dirt in the ninth.
Guerrero refused to pin his drought on his participation in the Home Run Derby, and said Thursday’s barrage did not result from a change in approach.
“The difference was, I was able to get more lift, more carry,” he said. “If I started looking for home runs, I wouldn’t get them.”
The Angels have hit eight homers in three games after combining for only 10 in July and recently enduring a 14-game stretch without one.
Angels starter Joe Saunders didn’t let the latest power surge go to waste, pitching 6 2/3 strong innings in which he gave up six hits and two runs.
Mark Ellis dinged Saunders (5-0) for a solo homer in the fourth and Swisher hit a run-scoring single to left in the fifth before Saunders escaped the resulting two-on, two-out jam by getting Mike Piazza to fly out to center.
“I think Joe’s picked up where he left off last year,” Scioscia said. “He’s making a statement that he’s got the opportunity and he’s bringing his game. Every time he goes out there he looks more comfortable.”
Justin Speier pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief before Darren Oliver opened the ninth and proceeded to walk Marco Scutaro before yielding Donnie Murphy’s two-out, two-run homer, the second homer of his career.
Closer Francisco Rodriguez then replaced Oliver and struck out Travis Buck to record his 26th save for the Angels, who improved to 10-9 since the All-Star break.
“For what we’re going to need in the second half, Vlad driving the ball is going to be important for us, and it came at a good time tonight,” Scioscia said. “We knew he was going to hit one at some point.”