ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Angels catcher Jeff Mathis looked at the scoreboard one and a half innings into Monday’s game with Texas, he felt pretty confident Francisco Rodriguez would have to wait for his date with history.
The Angels had an eight-run lead and All-Star right-hander Ervin Santana on the mound. So it was unlikely that any closer, even one a game away from the record books, would be needed.
“That’s not the first thing that comes to your mind,” Mathis said.
But a little more than two hours later, there was Rodriguez standing on the mound pointing both hands toward the sky, his trademark celebration, after notching his 35th save in the Angels’ 9-6 win over the Rangers.
That makes him the first pitcher with 35 saves before the All-Star break and gives him an outside shot at 40 in the first half of the season. And it puts him well ahead of the pace to shatter Bobby Thigpen’s season record of 57.
“It means a lot. Honestly it does,” Rodriguez said. “When you think of 40 games, you think of a whole season pretty much. And I’ve almost done that in half the season.”
Rodriguez led the American League with 45 saves two years ago. And 13 years ago, Randy Myers led the National League with only 38. Rodriguez could have that many by the end of the four-game series in Texas.
Especially with the way the Rangers score runs, which makes no starter’s lead in Texas safe. Take Monday, for example. The Angels scored eight times in the span of their first five outs, battering starter Luis Mendoza for three second-inning home runs, including on consecutive pitches to Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter that carried a combined 878 feet.
Hunter also homered in the seventh inning.
“You know in this park, especially with their offense, you have to pitch and pitch well to hold them down,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.
Scioscia saw most of the Rangers’ comeback from the air-conditioned cool of his clubhouse, to which he had been banished after arguing a hit-batter call with plate umpire Andy Fletcher in the top of the fifth inning.
Part of what he didn’t see live was a five-run Texas rally in the fifth inning against Santana, who had given up that many runs in a game only twice this season.
What he couldn’t see from his office, though, was Rodriguez beginning to stir in the bullpen.
“Usually, I start to prepare in the sixth, seventh inning,” Rodriguez said. “But after I saw that, I prepared earlier. To make sure I’d be ready.”
Santana survived the fifth inning -- in which he gave up four hits, including two two-out homers -- to pitch two scoreless innings before leaving after giving up a season-high 10 hits
“I knew we had a lot of scoring on the board,” Santana said. “I was just trying to be so perfect. And I was missing the zone. And that’s what happens when you miss.
“I have to pitch like it’s 0-0.”
That would have been good advice for Rodriguez too, who started his inning by giving up a leadoff double to Ian Kinsler, who had four hits to extend his hitting streak to 19 games and raise his batting average to a league-leading .338.
An out and a walk later, the Rangers brought the tying run to the plate before Rodriguez escaped with his record-setting save when first baseman Casey Kotchman speared David Murphy’s line drive for the final out.
“It’s just an unbelievable run,” Rodriguez said. “If somebody would have told me early in the year that [I] would be going for almost 40 saves by the All-Star break, I would have laughed in their face.
“Now everything is possible. I’ve got to keep going and make sure to finish very strong.”