It’s payback for Guerrero

Times Staff Writer

What had never happened before has now happened twice in three weeks, a team issuing an intentional walk to load the bases for Vladimir Guerrero, a strategy that is not so much a reflection on the Angels slugger as it is on the man now batting in front of him.

Guerrero, though not the terror he once was, still strikes fear into the hearts of opponents, but it is Mark Teixeira who causes them to do things that in the past seemed unfathomable.

The first baseman has been a force since the Angels acquired him from Atlanta on July 29, and he had a huge night Saturday with three hits, including a sixth-inning homer that provided insurance in the Angels’ 7-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Angel Stadium.

In 22 games since being acquired for Casey Kotchman, Teixeira is batting .367 with a .474 on-base percentage, six home runs, 19 runs batted in, 17 runs, 15 walks and 10 strikeouts.


It is that kind of power and production that prompted Manager Ron Gardenhire to walk Teixeira intentionally to load the bases in the third inning Saturday night.

Guerrero, who would ground into his 26th double play in the fourth, tying Lyman Bostock’s single-season club record, set in 1978, responded with a two-run double over the head of center fielder Carlos Gomez to spark a four-run rally.

“That’s pick your poison,” Gardenhire said. “You wouldn’t want to do that too many times.”

Angels starter Jon Garland, who was tagged for five runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings, agreed.

“Tex has made everyone else better,” Garland said. “He puts fear into opposing teams. When you intentionally walk a guy to pitch to Vladdy, that’s usually not going to go your way.”

Teixeira wasn’t the only Angels star Saturday, just the brightest. He singled in the first, hit an RBI single in the fourth, and after the Twins rallied for four runs in the fourth to make it 6-5, he hit a line drive over the short wall in right in the sixth for a 7-5 lead.

“Tex has been everything we expected,” center fielder Torii Hunter said. “He’s playing good defense, he’s hitting great. Even when we were struggling, he’s still going, like the Energizer Bunny.”

The Angels needed a jump start. They had lost seven of nine entering Saturday, scoring 28 runs, an average of 3.1 a game, during a stretch Manager Mike Scioscia described as “probably the worst baseball we have played all year long.”

With a huge division lead and a playoff spot all but locked up, the Angels looked complacent, a concern Scioscia addressed in a team meeting after Friday night’s 9-0 loss.

Hunter saw a silver lining: better to go through a funk in late August than late September. Or early October.

“Sometimes it’s good to go through something like this because it’s a slap in the face, and it humbles you,” Hunter said. “Even we thought we can’t be touched.”

The Angels responded Saturday, snapping a 22-inning scoreless streak with their four-run third, which featured a pair of errors by third baseman Brian Buscher, Guerrero’s clutch hit and Garret Anderson’s sacrifice fly.

Mike Napoli’s walk and Chone Figgins’ single, one of three hits for the leadoff batter, set up the two-run fourth, which included RBI singles by Erick Aybar and Teixeira.

Two nights after failing to make a catch that he thought cost the Angels a win, Hunter made two superb plays, leaping at the wall to catch Denard Span’s fifth-inning drive with the bases loaded and diving into the gap in left-center for Jason Kubel’s tailing eighth-inning drive.

Veteran left-hander Darren Oliver, who has worked his way into a more prominent bullpen role, relieved the struggling Garland with the bases loaded in the fifth and threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings, improving to 5-1 and lowering his earned-run average to 2.81.

The Angels increased their American League West lead over Texas to 16 games and reduced their magic number to clinch the division to 18.

Was there any correlation between Friday night’s meeting and Saturday’s performance?

“I think so,” Hunter said. “It was a well-needed meeting. The last nine games, our defense was a little shot, and we looked tired. The meeting pumped us up a bit.”