Angels making every hit count

Times Staff Writer

A breakout night for the offense it wasn't, but as Casey Kotchman said after the Angels' second walk-off win in as many games, a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers, "It's better than rapping out 10 runs and losing -- where's the good in that?"

Gary Matthews Jr., who struck out with runners on second and third in the eighth inning, delivered a two-out, run-scoring single in the ninth Tuesday night to lift the Angels to their sixth win in eight games, a stretch in which they've scored 21 runs, hit .183 overall and .158 with runners in scoring position.

The Angels got another superb start, this one from Ervin Santana, who gave up two runs and three hits, struck out seven and walked none for his third career complete game, his only blemish Miguel Cabrera's two-run home run in the second.

They got outstanding defensive plays from shortstop Maicer Izturis, who dived to the middle to stop Magglio Ordonez's seventh-inning grounder and threw to first for the out, and Torii Hunter, who raced into the gap in right-center to make a diving catch of Edgar Renteria's flare in the eighth.

And they got just enough offense, rallying for two runs in the eighth, which featured Garret Anderson's score-tying, two-out RBI single, and taking advantage of Tigers reliever Aquilino Lopez's two-out walks to Sean Rodriguez and Izturis to set up Matthews' game-winner in the ninth.

"We kept playing baseball," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Ervin kept pitching, we kept playing defense, we kept battling in the box . . . we did just enough, but without Ervin's effort tonight, we don't win that game."

Santana went 6-0 with a 2.02 earned-run average in his first seven starts but raised some concern when he went 0-2 with a 6.62 ERA in his three starts prior to Tuesday night.

But the right-hander was dominant against Detroit, matching his stuff with command. He threw 20 first-pitch strikes and did not go to a 2-and-0 count on any batter. Of his 113 pitches, 80 were strikes.

It marked the ninth time in 11 games Angels pitchers have delivered quality starts.

"The rotation is giving us a chance to win every time out -- you can't ask for anything else," Kotchman said. "They're keeping it close regardless of what we're doing at the plate, which at times has to be frustrating for the pitchers. But they keep putting up zeros for us."

That has also been a specialty of the Angels offense, which has struggled so much this month that Scioscia tried a different tack Tuesday, prescribing a team-wide chill pill. The manager canceled batting practice and told players they didn't have to be dressed until 5 p.m.

"The first course of action when guys are struggling is you try to get more work in the cage, and take more reps on the field," Scioscia said before the game. "But there comes a point where less is more, and I think we're at that point."

Some good that did. The Angels were blanked by Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman for seven innings -- he retired the first 12 batters of the game -- and had scored five runs in a span of 41 innings when Reggie Willits led off the eighth with a pinch-hit, infield single.

Rodriguez, who entered with a .140 average, singled to right, and both runners advanced on Izturis' sacrifice bunt. Reliever Francisco Cruceta struck out Matthews but, with Vladimir Guerrero batting, threw a wild pitch that scored Willits. Guerrero walked, and Anderson singled to right to tie the score, 2-2, snapping the team's 0-for-25 slide with runners in scoring position.

Lopez got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth before losing his command. After Rodriguez and Izturis walked, Matthews, who entered with a .218 average, stroked a first-pitch single to right-center for the game-winner, which tied him for the team lead with 28 RBIs.

"It seems like I've made some of them count," Matthews said. "I've had some big hits and RBIs. If I wasn't hitting [.217] it would be a pretty good season."


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