Angels accomplish barely the minimum

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Angels' clubhouse was empty by the time Torii Hunter got out of the shower, making a long night a little bit longer.

It was a night when Hunter saw 13 pitches from Tampa Bay's James Shields, yet managed to hit only one -- grounding it all the way to the shortstop.

And that almost qualified as a rally.

In fact, among the Angels, only Brandon Wood did better, with his third-inning bouncer up the middle the only thing that stood between Shields and a no-hitter in a 2-0 Rays win decided on rookie Evan Longoria's one-out walk-off home run in the ninth.

"I just tip my hat to him," said Hunter, who struck out twice. "You can make excuses all day. But he pitched pretty good."

Pretty good? Hunter swung and missed at that one too, because Shields was much better than good.

"Spectacular," said his manager, Joe Maddon.

Mixing an effective changeup with a fastball and cutter, Shields needed only 92 pitches to mow down the American League's second-best hitting team, facing one batter over the minimum. He went to a three-ball count only once and hit as many Angels as Angels hit him, plunking Erick Aybar on the hand an inning after Wood's single.

Shields then set down the last 17 Angels in order for his second shutout in three starts (he blanked Boston on two hits April 27), tying a club season record.

And it's only the second week in May.

"We've seen some games here and there," said Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, whose team was one-hit for the first time in two seasons. "But that one, certainly, would stick out as one of the best."

And Shields (4-2) had little room for error since Angels starter Jon Garland was matching him zero for zero through eight innings, giving up four hits and permitting only two runners to reach scoring position. He wasn't nearly as efficient as Shields, though, walking three and throwing a season-high 119 pitches. So Scioscia sent reliever Justin Speier out to start the ninth and three batters later it was over, with B.J. Upton opening the inning with a single and Longoria, the former Long Beach State standout, ending it with a homer to left-center.

"I made a bad pitch and he got a good swing on it," said Speier (0-2), who tried to go inside with a fastball but left it over the plate. "I knew right away on this one."

Yet as frustrating as the Angels' second consecutive loss was, it could have been worse. A lot worse.

When Aybar took a pitch off the pinkie of his left hand and collapsed in pain just outside the batter's box, it looked as if the Angels might be sending another middle infielder to the disabled list to join Howie Kendrick and Maicer Izturis. X-rays, however, were negative and Aybar was diagnosed with a bruise. He's listed as day to day.

Before the game Scioscia was contemplating putting infielder Chone Figgins, whose hamstring has been slow to heal, on the DL. Afterward he was considering holding auditions for his infield.

"We're nicked up," Scioscia said. "It's extreme right now. There's not a lot we can do about it. Injuries are going to be a part of any team's season."

If Scioscia does get desperate, however, Hunter is game to try a new position.

"If you need me, I'll play shortstop. I'm an athlete," he said with a smile.

That's not likely to happen, of course. So Hunter will have to settle for the next-best scenario.

"We just have to keep battling," he said "until those guys get back."


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