Angels get the season started with a big bang
Mike Scioscia calls it “batter’s box offense,” which seems odd -- what other kind of offense is there in baseball? -- until you realize the manager uses it to describe runs generated with bats instead of the Angels’ usual method of operation, speed and aggressive base running.
Peculiar or not, Angels fans might have to get used to the term. It could be heard often this season if Monday night’s season-opening 6-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Angel Stadium is any indication of the power Scioscia believes his team possesses.
The Angels slugged three solo home runs, including consecutive, eighth-inning shots by Hideki Matsui and Kendry Morales against reliever Jose Mijares that turned a tight, one-run game into a 6-3 Angels lead.
Jeff Mathis also lined the first pitch he saw over the center-field wall in the second inning for a home run to back a solid start by Jered Weaver, who gave up three runs and five hits in six innings to earn the victory.
Reliever Kevin Jepsen pitched out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the seventh, getting cleanup batter Justin Morneau to line out to first base on a full-count pitch; Fernando Rodney threw a hitless eighth and Brian Fuentes pitched a hitless ninth for the save.
“It looks like we have an exceptionally deep lineup,” Scioscia said. “You have [ Bobby] Abreu and Torii [Hunter] setting the table, and then comes Hideki and Morales and [Juan] Rivera. That should keep people’s attention.”
So should new leadoff batter Erick Aybar, who did a pretty fair impression Monday night of Chone Figgins, the All-Star he is replacing at the top of the order.
Showing a keen eye and a knack for fouling off tough pitches, Aybar worked a 10-pitch walk off starter Scott Baker in the first. Aybar and Hunter, who also walked, scored on singles by Morales and Rivera for a 2-0 lead.
Aybar grounded out in the second, reached on an infield single and scored to end a 3-3 tie in the fifth and singled in the seventh. In four plate appearances, Aybar, notorious two years ago for his free-swinging ways, saw 24 pitches.
“Erick did a great job -- he must have seen 30 pitches tonight,” Scioscia said. “I thought we did a good job setting the table.”
Matsui did a good job cleaning up. It was the Japanese slugger who lined a two-out single to right field to drive in Aybar with the go-ahead run in the fifth.
In the eighth, against the left-handed Mijares, Matsui hit a 1-and-2 pitch into the right-center-field seats to give the Angels a 5-3 lead and become the 25th player in franchise history to homer in his first game as an Angel. Morales then homered to left field to make it 6-3.
“When I got back to the dugout, I see everybody has a happy face,” Matsui said through an interpreter. “I think [the homer] happened at a pretty good time in terms of the flow of the game.”
The late power surge helped seal the win for Weaver, who wavered in the sixth when the Twins loaded the bases with two outs.
Jepsen was warm, Weaver’s pitch count was at 92, and up stepped Delmon Young, who hit a two-run homer against Weaver in the second inning.
Scioscia stuck with Weaver, who threw a first-pitch fastball in the dirt that Mathis blocked and a 74-mph changeup that Young flied to left field for an easy out.
“I thought it was a situation Weaver could get out of,” Scioscia said. “He had made a mistake earlier to Delmon. He came back and made a really good pitch.”