Lest anyone believe the Angels’ offense was built solely on well-placed and well-timed singles, walks and aggressive baserunning, the team flexed some serious muscle in the sixth inning of Saturday night’s 11-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins in the Metrodome.
First, it was Maicer Izturis who crushed a three-run home run, his fifth of the season, to right field, a blue-seat rattler against reliever R.A. Dickey that turned a 6-4 Angels advantage into a 9-4 lead.
“That was big,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “It gave Joe [Saunders] some breathing room and put us in a position where we could rest some key guys in our bullpen.”
Next, it was Juan Rivera who hit a laser against Bobby Keppel over the left-center field wall, a shot that traveled an estimated 387 feet for his 18th home run and a 10-4 Angels lead.
“You’re not going to see a ball hit harder than that,” Scioscia said. “That was incredible. It got out of here in a hurry.”
Finally, it was Kendry Morales who hit a bomb into the upper deck in right field, a shot against Keppel that went an estimated 411 feet to give the first baseman his team-leading 21st home run and the Angels an 11-4 lead.
“He’s hit some long home runs,” Scioscia said. “He has big-time power, and he’s been showing it.”
The power surge helped send the Angels to their 12th win in 14 games and Saunders to his first victory since June 24, ending a six-start string in which the left-hander had two losses, two no-decisions and a 9.39 earned-run average.
Saunders (9-6) wasn’t great. He gave up four runs and nine hits in six innings, struck out two and walked one, and his line might have been worse had he not snagged Denard Span’s wicked line drive with two on to end the sixth inning.
But Saunders, who was 3-5 with a 6.39 ERA over his previous 14 starts, was better than he had been, surviving two-run rallies in the second and third innings to blank the Twins on three hits over the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Saunders said. “I could command the ball on both sides of the plate and did a decent job of getting ahead of guys. I didn’t get in many 2-0 and 3-1 counts, which is big for me. It’s a matter of staying over the rubber, trusting my stuff and not being afraid of contact early in the count.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Angels, who increased their American League West lead over the Texas Rangers to four games, “are on fire at the plate,” as Saunders said.
They won’t be confused with the Rangers or New York Yankees, the top two home run-hitting teams in the league. The Angels still rank 10th in the AL with 111 home runs.
But over the last 43 games, the Angels have clubbed 67 home runs -- they had only 44 home runs in their first 58 games -- and they rank fourth in the league with a .449 slugging percentage.
“Absolutely,” Scioscia said, when asked if the Angels have more power than people think. “A month ago, we were talking about how we felt the slugging percentage potential of this club was there. The last 50-60 games, it’s been a big part of our resurgence.”
They haven’t abandoned their little-ball attack. They hit five singles during a three-run third inning Saturday and went from first to third on singles twice. They lead the major leagues in that category, going from first to third on singles 84 times.
They also lead the major leagues with a .309 average with runners in scoring position and received some clutch hits Saturday from Gary Matthews Jr., who drove in two runs with a two-out double in the second inning and had a run-scoring single in the fourth.
They are also 16-3 since middle-of-the-order hitters Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero went on the disabled list July 10.
“There are a lot of good teams out there . . . but these guys, I think what’s impressive is they’ve got some big guys out of the lineup, and they’re still really playing well,” Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire said.
“They can do so many things -- hit and run, bunt, slap the ball around, and then a couple guys can pop it too.”