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Anderson has the right stuff for Angels

The only left-handed hitter in the lineup hits a two-run homer that beats the Athletics, 4-3.

September 05, 2007|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Like a thief trying to crack a safe, Mike Scioscia has tinkered all season with his lineup against left-handers, trying to find some kind of combination to unlock the door to victory against a collection of pitchers that has mastered the Angels.

Tuesday night, the manager inserted Orlando Cabrera in the leadoff spot for the first time this season, Howie Kendrick in the second spot, and he loaded the lineup with right-handed hitters, eight in all.

So, what happens? The only left-handed hitter in the lineup, the one batting in the same position he always does, delivers the biggest blow of the game.

Cleanup hitter Garret Anderson continued his torrid second-half run by crushing a Lenny DiNardo pitch far over the right-field wall for a two-run homer that broke a sixth-inning tie and pushed the Angels to a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics in Angel Stadium.

Jered Weaver survived a rocky start to pitch six solid innings, allowing two runs and seven hits, and left-hander Darren Oliver, assuming a more prominent late-inning role in place of struggling setup man Scot Shields, threw two hitless innings, striking out two and walking one.

Closer Francisco Rodriguez applied the finishing touches with a little more drama than he'd like, giving up consecutive one-out doubles to Rob Bowen and Shannon Stewart, which trimmed the lead to 4-3 in the ninth. But Rodriguez struck out Nick Swisher on a full-count changeup and Jack Cust with a fastball for his 34th save.

That enabled the Angels, who improved to 16-16 against left-handed starters, to increase their American League West lead over Seattle to 7 1/2 games -- the largest edge of any first-place team in baseball -- and reduce their magic number to clinch the division title to 18.

"When Garret is on, he attacks left-handers, and right now, he's the Garret that we've seen before, who hits any left-handed pitcher," Scioscia said. "The biggest thing we're seeing with Garret is health. That's stoking his confidence."

And Anderson, in turn, is stoking the Angels' offense. In his last 14 games, the left fielder has 26 runs batted in. He has driven in at least one run in each of his last nine games, one shy of the club record for consecutive games with an RBI, held by Wally Joyner (1986) and Fred Lynn (1984).

Anderson, who has raised his average from .271 to .290 in the last two weeks, has 52 RBIs in 49 games since the All-Star break, and eight of his 14 home runs have come in his last 14 games.

"G.A. has been unbelievable," Weaver said. "He's been battling injuries, but when he's healthy, he's the real deal. He's been a real spark to the lineup."

Anderson averaged 30 homers and 120 RBIs a season from 2000-2003 before a string of back, hip, leg and foot injuries derailed his career. A hip flexor tendon tear sidelined him from April 28-June 2 this season.

But since the All-Star break, Anderson seems rejuvenated, his legs sound enough for him to steal second base in the eighth inning Tuesday.

"That's an indication his legs feel good," Scioscia said. "His numbers were off the charts for a couple of years -- he's been on streaks like this for whole seasons -- and it's great to see him on one now."

Weaver spent 39 of his 107 pitches in the first two innings, giving up a home run to Stewart to lead off the game but escaping a jam by striking out Jack Hannahan with the bases loaded to end the first. Stewart's run-scoring groundout in the second gave Oakland a 2-0 lead, but Weaver blanked the A's on three hits through the sixth, his middle infielders backing him with double plays to end the third and fourth innings.

Kendrick erased that deficit in the third when, following Jeff Mathis' lead-off single, he smashed a wicked liner off the fake rock formation in center field for a two-run home run, his fifth of the season and first since June 29, and a 2-2 tie.

Vladimir Guerrero walked to open the sixth, and Anderson made DiNardo pay, driving an 0-and-1 pitch into the right-field seats for his fifth home run of the season against a left-hander.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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