Angels outfielder Juan Rivera isn’t comfortable on the bench. Which is why he doesn’t stay there very often.
“Every game, if I’m not playing, I’ve been in the [batting] cages getting ready for the tougher situations,” said Rivera, who admits he has struggled making the transition from being a regular to being a guy who has made just three starts in the field this season.
So when a tough situation arose Saturday night, Rivera was prepared, looping a bases-loaded broken-bat single into right-center field to give the Angels a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Blue Jays, snapping a two-game losing streak and handing Toronto its second loss in 10 games.
It was also the Angels’ third walk-off win on a homestand in which they’ve continued to struggle offensively. And though his team had trouble getting runners home again Saturday, stranding eight men at second or third and going just three for 12 with runners in scoring position, Manager Mike Scioscia saw enough positive signs to suggest the drought might be lifting.
“We did a lot better job of pressuring those guys,” said Scioscia, whose team matched a season high with 16 hits -- 13 of them singles.
“It’s good to see some seeing-eye hits and a break here or there. But when push comes to shove, we need baserunners. We got a lot of them tonight. Only three runs but it’s a good sign at least getting them on in the first place.”
Half of those hits came from the bottom third of the lineup, with shortstop Maicer Izturis, who entered the game batting .202, getting four singles and Robb Quinlan, who was batting .220, adding three.
But the biggest hit came from Rivera, who had only 15 at-bats in May before coming up as a pinch-hitter in the No. 9 spot. Before missing most of last season with a broken leg, Rivera would often get that many at-bats in a weekend.
The new job, he said, is more complicated.
“If we’re not playing, we have to get ready for whatever situation might arise,” said Rivera, who leads the Angels with three pinch-hits. “Mike [Scioscia] had confidence in me as one of the guys who’s been here the longest.
“It’s a feeling I get more comfortable with as I prepare for the role I have now.”
Rivera’s one-out heroics -- which followed Casey Kotchman’s third hit of the night, an infield single by Izturis and an intentional walk to Jeff Mathis -- came too late for Angels starter John Lackey, who gave up just one earned run in eight innings yet had nothing to show for it.
Lackey was nearly perfect through the first three innings, allowing only a leadoff walk to Shannon Stewart, who was erased on a double play. But the Blue Jays broke through to take a 1-0 lead in the fourth when the Angels botched a rundown play, allowing Marco Scutaro to score from third.
The Angels got that run back in the bottom of the inning on Torii Hunter’s leadoff home run -- the center fielder’s first homer and first RBI in more than a week.
The teams exchanged runs again in the seventh, Toronto scoring on Rod Barajas’ two-out home run that hit the top of the fence in left-center field and bounced over, and the Angels tying it again on back-to-back doubles by Reggie Willits and Howie Kendrick in the bottom of the inning.
The Angels could have gotten a lot more than that, though, on a night they went down in order just twice, left the bases loaded in the second and stranded 14 in the game.