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Sunday, August 24, 2008

No Garlands For Garland, But Angels Offense Back On Track: Angels 7, Twins 5

My friend Harry called about a half an hour before we were supposed to leave for the park today and wondered if we could have dinner. Well, sure, but he'd have to join us at Angels Stadium. That granted, we all got to the park in time for the first pitch and with even a little to spare for the reading of the lineups, too.

As it happened, the first couple innings looked like more of the same from the last week's playbook for the Angels, especially after Vlad bounced into a 5-4-3 double play to end a men-on-the-corners situation in the first; Harry later told me I was quite entertaining while yelling epithets at Vlad for his by now wholly predictable GIDP (something he later repeated in the fourth, only this time to short). The Angels also failed to capitalize on a leadoff bunt single from Torii Hunter in the second, with Garret Anderson, Juan Rivera, and Howie Kendrick all choking the bit in succession; Hunter was stranded at first, and the threat was as pusillanimous as anything they had done in the late Cleveland series.

Fortunately for my vocal chords, the Angels finally broke through in the third, with Mike Napoli reaching on the first of two errors made by third baseman Brian Buscher that inning. Chone Figgins reached on a single, his second of the game; it seemed like the scoreboard operator wanted to credit him with more than he had done this year, since they flashed his season average at one point as .305. Erick Aybar bunted the both of them to second and third, and that was the last out starter Nick Blackburn would make until he faced Garret Anderson four batters and four runs later. That, of course, included a two-run double by Vlad (who managed to avoid another double play), his only hit of the game. Even Juan Rivera's inning-ending flyout to center required an exceptional running catch in the gap by Carlos Gomez.

The Angels tacked on two more runs in the fourth, with Napoli again providing the spark with a one-out walk, though this time Guerrero ended the fun with his second DP of the game. That should have been enough to at least get Jon Garland through five. Instead, after four innings where he only allowed one Twins baserunner past first, Alexi Casilla on a leadoff homer in the fourth, he imploded. Garland gave up consecutive well-hit singles to 7-8 hitters Buscher and Nick Punto, and then hit Gomez with the next pitch, loading the bases with nobody out. Predictable results ensued, and Garland was forced to leave following a Joe Mauer RBI single with only one out in the inning. (The damage could have been far worse save for an excellent Torii Hunter catch near the wall in center of Denard Span's screaming liner, turning that into a sac fly instead of a bases-clearing double.) Darren Oliver came in to restore order, and he retired the next two batters without incident, though Justin Morneau's unassisted groundout to first scored Casilla from third.

In fact, Hunter saved a couple extra-base hits in this game, making nice plays to help out Scot Shields in the eighth against Morneau and Jason Kubel, allowing Shields to have a 1-2-3 inning. As hard as the Twins were hitting Shields, it looked as though Mark Teixera's solo homer — a low line drive off Boof Bonser that skipped off the top of the low wall in right — might be necessary insurance. But no; even Francisco Rodriguez' 49th save was fairly painless. He even did it with a one-out baserunner, Nick Punto, who reached on a full-count single hit cleanly up the middle.

No account of this game would be complete without a kind word for the outstanding performance posted by Darren Oliver, who's quietly stepped up in just about every circumstance he's been thrown into. With the Angels' lead teetering in the fifth, he made two outs to contain the damage and posted two zero frames of his own to bridge the game to Shields and Frankie. Appropriately, he got the win, and I can't think of a reliever who lately has been more deserving.

As these things go, it was a much-needed tonic for the last week, a dismal and frequently futile one for the offense. Even Howie Kendrick, slumping mightily for the last week plus, came up with a pair of hits, something he hadn't done since August 12 against Seattle.

Strangely, the Twins still have a half-game lead in the AL Central. It reminds me a bit of the 2004 season where Oakland led most of the way, only to have the Angels ambush the A's late. Whether this plays out similarly I don't know, but the last time the Chisox weren't in first, it was May 16, and the Indians were atop the standings. The Angels have a 16-game lead on the division, thanks to Cleveland's 8-7 victory. As the Rev points out, this is an all-time franchise mark.

Yahoo boxMLB.com recap

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