Angels walk off with a loss

Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- The ball exploded off Carlos Quentin's bat, soaring in a high arc toward the left-field bleachers, and all Angels pitcher John Lackey could do was stand in front of the mound, his back to the plate, and watch.

He did not twist and contort his body in an effort to will the ball back. Nor did he show much emotion when the ball finally reached the seats, giving the Chicago White Sox a 3-2 victory over the Angels in U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday night.

The shot hung in the air so long, it was almost as if Lackey had enough time to fully process and come to grips with the first walk-off home run he has given up in his six-year career, which may explain why he was so composed afterward.

"I was trying to throw a two-seam fastball, to run it in," Lackey said. "It definitely wasn't in."

Quentin's leadoff homer in the ninth inning was his 14th this season. The left fielder hit a two-run shot against Lackey in the third.

The former Stanford star is batting .301. Quentin, 25, leads the American League in home runs and ranks second with 43 runs batted in, having gone from an anonymous reserve outfielder to probable All-Star in a matter of months.

"I had never heard of him before this year," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "He came out of nowhere."

Actually, he came out of Arizona. In one of those under-the-radar winter meetings deals, the Diamondbacks, with no outfield spot for Quentin and questions about how he'd rebound from a shoulder injury, traded him to Chicago in December for infielder Chris Carter, who has not played above the Class-A level.

It was a steal for the White Sox, who have a new No. 3 hitter who has already tormented the Angels. Quentin hit a tie-breaking grand slam against Scot Shields in the eighth inning of Chicago's 6-1 victory in Anaheim on May 14.

"He's got Hulk Hogan power, he's pretty strong," Hunter said. "We call it crazy pop. He hit two home runs into a stiff wind."

Those two shots backed the superb pitching of forkball specialist Jose Contreras, who gave up two runs and three hits, struck out 10 and walked none, in eight innings.

The Angels bunched two hits in the fourth, when Maicer Izturis singled and Gary Matthews Jr. lined a two-run home run to right field to tie the score, 2-2.

The Angels managed only one other hit, a leadoff double by Garret Anderson in the seventh inning, but Anderson was stranded at third base when Mike Napoli struck out for the third time.

So ended an extremely frustrating yet strangely successful trip for the Angels, who won four of six games in Toronto and Chicago despite batting .166 (31 for 187) overall, .184 (seven for 38) with runners in scoring position and scoring 17 runs in six games.

"I'm tired of these pitching duels -- when are the hitters going to bust out?" Hunter said. "Contreras pitched like a Cy Young winner. He'd throw that split around the plate, and right when you swing, it would drop out of the zone. . . . Sometimes you've got to tip your cap, but I don't want to do that every night."

As the offense struggles, "it puts a lot of pressure on the pitchers," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "If you have some breathing room, you don't have to be as fine in certain counts. When you're not scoring runs, every pitch is magnified."

Lackey is used to it. The right-hander has gone entire seasons with little support and has learned to pitch, and thrive, with little margin for error.

"It's fun," Lackey said. "If you don't want to go against big-time pitchers, you don't belong here, and you certainly don't want to be [the ace]. I knew it would be tough because Contreras was nasty tonight. That split he has is pretty dirty."

Lackey had good stuff, too -- outside of Quentin, the White Sox didn't hit many balls hard. Lackey was also efficient, throwing 82 pitches for a complete game.

If only he could have that last one back.

"Quentin is a strong kid having a great year," Scioscia said. "If you don't get the ball in the right zone, he's going to let you know."


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