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Guerrero Pays Off for Angels

Right fielder's two-run homer in the fifth inning gives Anaheim a 3-2 win over Baltimore.

May 23, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

Vladimir Guerrero was lounging on a leather chair in the Angel clubhouse's Latin Quarter, the segment of the room where Anaheim's Latino ballplayers converge before leaving for batting practice.

Spanish and salsa music were pounding off the walls when Scot Shields broke the mood.

"Runners at first and second?" Shields said, recalling a situation Guerrero faced against the Baltimore Orioles the night before. "You've got to bunt. Bunt that ball."

Shields' tongue was clearly stuffed in his cheek as Guerrero simply smiled that shy grin of his and looked down.

"No pay for bunt," Guerrero said in broken English, cracking up any and all within listening distance.

Indeed, Guerrero, who signed a five-year, $70-million free-agent contract with the Angels in January, is paid for moments such as the one he provided in the fifth inning of the Angels' 3-2 victory over the Orioles on Saturday night.

Having already struck out twice and been made to look foolish each time by Baltimore starter Sidney Ponson, Guerrero dived into a two-out, first-pitch, 85-mph slider and hit a monstrous two-run homer over the left-center fence, the ball landing in the seats above both bullpens.

The 453-foot home run, Guerrero's ninth homer of the season, gave the Angels the 3-2 lead, eliciting raucous cheers from the Angel Stadium sellout crowd of 43,586.

"The first two times I was swinging wildly," Guerrero said in Spanish. "Then I was more cautious, trying just to hit the ball. Thankfully, I hit a home run."

And thankfully for the Angels, they received another strong pitching performance.

Right-handed starter Kelvim Escobar (3-2) earned the win after giving up two runs, on a pair of solo home runs, and five hits in seven innings. Escobar struck out six and walked two in 107 pitches.

Setup man Francisco Rodriguez pitched a perfect eighth inning before closer Troy Percival, who had to go through the heart of the Oriole lineup, got his 12th save in 15 chances after making things interesting.

After Percival induced Miguel Tejada to softly line out to short, Rafael Palmeiro doubled into the left-center gap and was replaced on the basepath by Jerry Hairston.

Javy Lopez flew out to left for out No. 2 and with Jay Gibbons at the plate, Hairston stole third before Percival walked Gibbons.

Percival ended the game when he struck out B.J. Surhoff swinging.

"After 10 years, I've always got someone on base," said Percival, who needed 26 pitches to close things out a night after needing 22 pitches. "When you're in a one-run ballgame every day, that's what happens."

What also happened for the first time was Anaheim beating Ponson (3-4), who brought a lifetime 7-0 record with a 3.90 earned-run average against the Angels into the game.

Ponson lasted eight innings and gave up three runs and nine hits while striking out five and walking two in 106 pitches.

"Ponson is tough, he's tough on a lot of our guys," said Angel Manager Mike Scioscia. "Fortunately, we pitched just a notch better."

And the Angels (28-15) had strong-armed Jose Guillen in left field.

Guillen protected the lead Guerrero had given the Angels when he threw out Surhoff at the plate to end the seventh inning. Surhoff was trying to score on Larry Bigbie's single.

It was the second consecutive game Guillen had nailed a Baltimore runner at home.

"With two outs, he's got to go," Guillen said. "It doesn't matter who's in the outfield. They have to try to score with two outs."

Escobar, who was backing up the play, agreed.

"I know B.J. is kind of a slow runner," he said, "and I know Jose has a good arm."

The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Chone Figgins' one-out single up the middle drove in Adam Kennedy, who had singled to right.

Baltimore (20-19) went up, 2-1, in the fourth on solo homers by Melvin Mora and Lopez.

Enter Guerrero in the fifth.

Kennedy led off with a double down the first-base line and went to third on David Eckstein's sacrifice bunt. Figgins struck out before Guerrero strode to the plate.

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