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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Singles Night: Angels 3, Blue Jays 2 (10 Innings)

Toronto inevitably makes life difficult for the Angels, and it seems their rotation has improved over the years to rather quietly become a collective five-man monster; no matter what day of the week you pick, you're getting somebody with a sub-3.00 ERA. Today's head of the Cerberus was Shaun Marcum, a guy whose performance tonight did his team sizeable credit, giving up all manner of singles but only three extra-base hits and a lone walk; that is, he had to become an expert at pitching to contact (normally he's a strikeout pitcher), and while there are good and bad examples of those, he so far this year has been outstanding.

The Halos picked up some instant offense off Marcum in the fourth on Torii Hunter's leadoff homer, and got a couple singles mixed in thereafter to create a men-on-the-corners situation with one out for leadoff man Reggie Willits. Because B-Ref doesn't allow for double splits, I can't tell if Willits' problems in the leadoff spot are due to his principal use there in the second half last year, or if it's because he just sucks at it; but his contributions to today's game was one of the two aforesaid doubles, but he reached legally at no other time.

I stress "legally" because home plate umpire Hunter Wendlestedt adjudged Willits out on a bunt single attempt in the bottom of the ninth; he laid down a near-perfect bunt, and would have been safe, too, except that Jays catcher Rod Barajas plunked Willits in the back, and Wendlestedt ruled him out on interference for running out of the lane. It was the purest sewage, of course, and very nearly turned the course of the game; Scioscia argued the call for a couple minutes before surrendering to the task's futility.

The Jays got their runs off Lackey in one unusual way, and one usual. The unusual way was the fourth inning that started with Marco Scutaro's single. Alex Rios then singled to right behind him, but Vlad decided Rios shouldn't be trying to leg out a double, and threw hard back to second. Caught dead-to-rights, Howie threw the ball away, allowing Scutaro to score the first run of the game. The second run for the Jays was a simple solo shot in the seventh off Barajas' bat.

All this is to say that Lackey had some adventures but contained himself to pitch well through eight innings. If only his offense had enough wallop to give him a win. Or the accurate throwing arm. Whatever, the ninth inning rally, capped by a pinch-hit Juan Rivera RBI single, was plenty heroic. The Angels tallied 16 hits in total, though only three of them were for extra bases, and all in the tenth were singles. The good news there, of course, was that one of those came from Howie Kendrick, who didn't do anything else successfully in the game, but that was such a big deal, considering the time off and the lack of preparation in the minors, that it's worth celebrating in itself.

Finally: praise for Mike Scioscia's lineup tonight. It still has Vlad, but muted in cleanup, and Willits at leadoff. With Quinlan contributing three hits in four at bats (one an infield single, and another a blooper that banked off the second base bag away from Marco Scutaro and into right field), even he was finding ways to make himself useful. This was probably his best lineup so far this series, the necessary exception at catcher duly noted; the sad thing was that none of Izturis' three hits resulted in him scoring. Try, try again.

ESPN BoxRecap

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Marcum's really NOT a "pitch to contact" type of guy. Before last night, he had only given up 41 hits in his previous 11 starts. He's a strikeout pitcher who just doesn't seem to do to well against the Halos.

The Angels, with all those baserunners, were just unlucky. It's rare to have 18 baserunners and score just three runs.
Minor detail, but Lackey pitched 8 innings, not 7. Calling his effort "effective" is sort of damning with faint praise. Only one ER and one walk through 8. That's the work of an ace, and Lackey has proven to be nothing less than that since returning from the DL.
Corrections duly made.

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