That five-year, $50-million deal the Angels gave Gary Matthews Jr. last winter looks like a bargain now, doesn't it?
The Angels and General Manager Bill Stoneman were universally panned for giving the 32-year-old center fielder such a lucrative contract after his breakout 2006 season for Texas. A one-year wonder, they all howled. And that was before Matthews was hit with human growth hormone allegations this spring.
Time will tell whether the oft-criticized Stoneman gets the last laugh on this one, but he's certainly getting the first one.
Matthews added another blue-chip game to his expanding portfolio Friday night, following an intentional walk to Vladimir Guerrero with a bases-loaded, two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning to lift the Angels to a 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Angel Stadium.
Matthews' hit made a winner of John Lackey (9-3), who gave up a two-run home run to Miguel Tejada in the first inning and blanked the Orioles on three hits over the next seven innings to become the major leagues' first nine-game winner.
Matthews also sprinted to the warning track in center to run down Nick Markakis' eighth-inning drive and raced into the gap in right-center for Brian Roberts' fifth-inning drive.
That's nothing new -- Matthews has played Gold Glove-caliber defense all season, saving countless runs -- but his offense has become just as significant.
Matthews is batting .286 and ranks second on the team with 35 runs, second with 33 runs batted in and second with seven home runs. Since dropping from the leadoff spot to the middle of the order to replace the injured Garret Anderson, Matthews has 24 RBIs in 26 games.
"As Gary has evolved the last couple of years, you see a player finding his game," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's playing with terrific confidence on defense and offense. When you see him every day, you see he's a difference-maker, especially on the defensive end.... Not only the runs he saves, but the momentum he changes."
Until Matthews clutched up in the seventh, the frustration of Thursday night's 6-2 loss, in which the Angels were three for 19 with runners in scoring position, seemed to merge into Friday.
They loaded the bases with one out in the first but failed to score, and put runners on first and third with one out in the second, but Reggie Willits bounced into a double play.
Willits followed Chone Figgins' one-out double in the fifth with a run-scoring single, pulling the Angels to within 2-1, but after singles by Orlando Cabrera and Guerrero loaded the bases, Matthews hit a one-hop shot to second, where Roberts started an inning-ending double play.
Shea Hillenbrand and Figgins, who had three hits, opened the seventh with singles, and Willits' sacrifice bunt advanced pinch-runner Nathan Haynes and Figgins. But Cabrera popped up to the catcher for the second out.
The Orioles -- no shock here -- walked Guerrero to load the bases, giving the Angels slugger a league-leading 16 free passes. The Angels had one hit in 12 previous at-bats, with three sacrifice flies, following intentional walks to Guerrero.
"I try to take the emotion out of it," Matthews said. "Vlad is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and if I'm the opposing manager, I'm not going to let Vlad beat me. You walk him. I take the pride out of it, try to put a good swing on it and see what happens."
It happened very quickly. Matthews lined Daniel Cabrera's first pitch into left-center, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead, and Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez (19th save) nailed down the final five outs, as the Angels won for the eighth time in 11 games.
"He's been doing it on both ends, and he's done a great job driving in runs behind Vlad," Lackey said of Matthews. "It's been a great acquisition."