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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Just-In-Time Shutout: Angels 6, Mariners 0

There was a moment in the eighth after Ichiro struck out that for me defined the tenor of the game from Seattle's standpoint. After Ichiro swung and missed a ball in the dirt, Jeff Mathis briefly lost the ball — not by a lot, but enough — and the Mariners' centerfielder jogged to first. Jogged, that is, not ran. I don't know about how he's feeling physically; maybe he's nursing a hamstring pull, or maybe it's just late in the season, but it seemed to me that if he runs full out, he maybe forces Mathis into making a throwing error and reaches first base.

Pretty clearly, he figured it wasn't worth it. The M's had barely made anything happen all game; the closest they came was in the third with Ichiro and Jose Vidro on third and second respectively with two out, itself the subject of an interesting sidebar. Coming into the game having lost their last two games to Texas, and apparently getting screwed on a safe call at second earlier in the game (replays showed Gary Matthews, Jr. safe, though the radio announcers said he should have been called out), nothing was going right for the M's. The Angels were getting too many breaks and the Mariners weren't getting timely hits. More, their obvious team leader was demoralized.

Back, briefly, to the bottom of the third. The key play was Jose Vidro grounding out to Kendry Morales with men on the corners. Kendry took a fairly big chance and threw the ball to the plate to preserve the shutout. This allowed both runners to advance to second and third, but with two outs. It's not the first time I've seen Kendry take a chance on a play to improve the Angels' situation; his defense is often surprising, and by that I mean in a good way. More than once I've seen him try for a 3-6-3 or a 3-6-1 double play and make it work. Kotchman's overall package is just terrific: he's a smooth, agile defender in all aspects, but there are times when you see Kendry take a chance that you just know Kotchman wouldn't, and that play might have been one of those times.

The Angels took a lead on Garret Anderson's leadoff homer in the third and never looked back. Anderson, in fact, ended up with three RBIs in the game, two more in the third with the bases loaded on what was ultimately ruled a ground-rule double because of fan interference. (Incidentally, has anyone else noticed that GA's average with runners in scoring position has crept up to .229 over the last couple weeks?) The Angels put together a suicide squeeze off Jeff Mathis in the fourth, and scored twice in the sixth, once on Kendry's RBI single and another time on a wild pitch by Bautista.

Finally, Lackey turned the ship around in a big way following two straight losses to the Red Sox and Yankees, posting a dominant complete-game shutout, his second complete game of the year. He looked for the world like that 2.91 ERA Lackey who showed up in the first half. A great, great outing at exactly the time the Angels needed it. The Angels now sport a three-game lead in the AL West, and can do no worse than a one-game lead at the end of the series should they drop the other two games.

Update: Lackey was playing through a case of strep throat.

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Excellent points regarding Morales and Kotchman.
....and Ichiro for that matter. I noticed the same thing.

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