Angels' 6-5 win over Orioles lifts Saunders

Times Staff Writer

Joe Saunders had no business winning Sunday, not when the Angels left-hander gave up a career-high 12 hits in five innings and, by his own admission, had a subpar fastball, a sporadic curve and a changeup that was just "OK at times."

But his teammates -- and the Baltimore Orioles, to a degree -- wouldn't let him lose.

Saunders survived his worst start of the season; Gary Matthews Jr., Torii Hunter and Robb Quinlan clubbed home runs; the Orioles committed a pair of baserunning gaffes to thwart two rallies; and the Angels' bullpen held on for a 6-5 victory in Angel Stadium.

"It was a battle out there from the get-go," said the unbeaten Saunders, who became the third pitcher in club history to open a season 6-0 or better. "I was fortunate to get through five innings."

It looked as if he might not get through one. Brian Roberts led off the game with a double, and after Nick Markakis flied out, Roberts was thrown out trying to steal third by catcher Jeff Mathis.

Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar and Ramon Hernandez strung four consecutive hard-hit singles together for two runs, Hernandez's hit coming on Saunders' 26th pitch of the inning.

Problem was, Hernandez thought his liner off the left-field wall was a home run, so much so that he gave first base coach John Shelby a high-five as he trotted around the bag.

Left fielder Garret Anderson caught the carom off the wall on the fly and fired to shortstop Erick Aybar, who threw to second to nail Hernandez, who didn't step on the accelerator in time.

"I really thought when I hit it, it was out," Hernandez said. "Shelby said, 'You got it!' Then I saw Aybar with the ball and thought, 'What the . . .?' "

Matthews, who replaced the injured Chone Figgins (right hamstring strain) at the top of the order, led off the bottom of the first with a home run to center against Steve Trachsel.

Vladimir Guerrero ended an 0-for-15 skid with a single to center, Casey Kotchman doubled to left, and Hunter drove a three-run home run to left, his fifth homer of the season but first since his walk-off grand slam beat Cleveland on April 7.

"Sometimes when you're hitting .300, you want to maintain it, so you cut down on your swing a bit," said Hunter, who is batting .314. "I'm trying to have better at-bats, but . . . forget that! I'm swinging from my booty from now on."

Mora hit a solo homer to left in the top of the third, but Kotchman led off the bottom of the third with a single and scored on Quinlan's two-out, two-run homer to center, his first of the season, to give the Angels a 6-3 lead.

Millar's run-scoring single in the fifth pulled Baltimore to within 6-4, but Saunders got out of a first-and-third, one-out jam that inning by getting Hernandez to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play.

Markakis' solo homer against Justin Speier in the seventh made it 6-5, but Scot Shields retired the side in order in the eighth, and Francisco Rodriguez added a scoreless ninth for his American League-leading 13th save.

Give Mathis an assist. The speedy Roberts led off the ninth with a single to center, and during an at-bat in which Markakis flied out, and on a first-pitch ball to Mora, Mathis noticed Roberts taking a few extra steps on his secondary lead toward second.

After Rodriguez delivered ball two to Mora, Mathis picked off Roberts with a snap throw to Kotchman at first. Mora then popped to short, ending the game.

"He's an aggressive baserunner, I knew that coming in," Mathis said of Roberts. "Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him take a couple extra steps on his secondary lead a few pitches before that. To get an out in that situation, it definitely pumps you up."


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