Angels tap into latent resource
Forgotten but not gone. That’s been the status of Gary Matthews Jr. since early July, when a knee injury and poor performance reduced the outfielder to such a bit role he had all of 30 at-bats in 33 games from the All-Star break through Saturday.
But Sunday in Angel Stadium, the afterthought moved to the forefront.
Playing only because Garret Anderson left in the second inning because of a knee injury, Matthews hit a run-scoring triple to key a three-run eighth that gave the Angels a 5-3 come-from-behind victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Mark Teixeira sparked the winning rally with a leadoff double, and Vladimir Guerrero hit a score-tying triple. Matthews’ hit put the Angels ahead, and Juan Rivera, whose summer surge has kept Matthews tethered to the bench, contributed a sacrifice fly.
Francisco Rodriguez struck out two of four in the ninth inning for his major league-leading 50th save and the Angels earned a split of the four-game series against the playoff-contending Twins.
“Mentally, it was good to get into a game, no matter how bad you feel physically,” said Matthews, who has a slight tear in the patella tendon in his left knee, an injury that could require surgery after the season. “It feels good to get between the lines. It’s your sanctuary.”
Matthews hasn’t found much refuge during a disappointing season in which he has endured the wrath of fans, who see his .225 average, seven homers and 37 runs batted in, his five-year, $50-million contract and wonder how the Angels can unload him.
While rehabilitating the knee, Matthews has struggled to adapt to a reserve role. Through Saturday, he had one hit in 21 at-bats since July 28. In nine games from Aug. 12 to Thursday, he had one pinch-running appearance.
“It’s frustrating because you want to play, but physically, it’s painful,” Matthews said. “This is not the season I envisioned, but as a team, we’ve played so well, the last thing I want to do is take anything away from what we’ve accomplished. Personal things take a back seat.”
Matthews has no choice but to accept the scraps Manager Mike Scioscia lays out. Rivera is batting .245 with nine homers, all since July 2, and 28 RBIs, and the Angels are clearly a better team since he replaced Matthews in the outfield-designated hitter rotation.
“I don’t know if Gary is ever going to get time to adapt to this role, but you know what? We have to play baseball, and he has to contribute when there’s an opportunity,” Scioscia said.
“He works hard, he gets treatment to get his knee where it needs to be. There are no other options. Gary has to be ready to come in and do some of the things he’s had to do in the last month. He had a great game today.”
Through 5 1/2 innings Sunday, it appeared the Angels might fall victim to the one-man wrecking crew that was Justin Morneau.
The Twins first baseman, who hit .040 (one for 25) in his first seven games against the Angels this season, drove in three runs with a single in the first inning, a double in the third and a homer in the sixth.
But Teixeira broke up Kevin Slowey’s shutout with a homer in the sixth, his seventh as an Angel, and singles by Howie Kendrick and Mike Napoli in the seventh set up Chone Figgins’ run-scoring groundout, which made it 3-2.
Teixeira led off the eighth inning with a double to right field against Dennys Reyes. Manager Ron Gardenhire summoned right-hander Jesse Crain to face Guerrero, who drove a run-scoring triple off the wall in center field for a 3-3 tie.
Crain struck out Torii Hunter, but Matthews drove a ball into the right-field corner and, gimpy knee and all, pulled off a triple to drive in Guerrero for a 4-3 lead. Rivera’s sacrifice fly made it 5-3.
“As much as those hits were big down the stretch, I thought our base running was exceptional,” Scioscia said. “Howie going first to third in the seventh, and Vlad and Gary stretching those hits to triples put us in a good situation to chip away and get the lead.”