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Aybar, Oliver save it before Rodriguez

August 17, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

CLEVELAND -- Off the bat, Ryan Garko's seventh-inning flare to shallow left field Saturday "looked like a bloop hit," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. Pitcher John Lackey "thought it was a base hit."

Even shortstop Erick Aybar, who would make a spectacular, game-saving play on the ball, said he "didn't think I'd catch it . . . the way it came off the bat, the ball was going a little too fast."

Reliever Darren Oliver kept the faith. Aybar raced straight back, about 45 feet, and made a diving catch to help Oliver escape a bases-loaded, no-outs jam, and the Angels held on for a 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

On the verge of its third meltdown in three games, the Angels' bullpen, which had four blown saves and two losses in the previous two games, held.

Scot Shields threw a scoreless eighth, and Francisco Rodriguez struck out Garko, who hit a two-run homer in the fourth, with a full-count slider and a man on second in the ninth for his 47th save, tying the franchise season record he set in 2006.

None of this would have been possible, though, without Aybar's defensive wizardry, which Oliver never doubted.

Asked if he thought Garko's ball would fall for a hit, the veteran left-hander said, "Nah, I knew Aybar would get it. He's supposed to make that play. He always does something out there that a normal person can't do."

Aybar is now working without a safety net after fellow shortstop Maicer Izturis suffered a season-ending thumb injury Wednesday, and he admitted that the "entire" responsibility for one of the most important defensive positions on the field rests on his shoulders.

The Angels appear to be in good hands.

"I think we all have a lot of confidence in him," said Lackey, who gave up three runs and six hits in six innings to improve to 10-2. "He's a top-notch shortstop.

"He has great range, a cannon for an arm, and he can do the job in the two-hole. I think we'll be fine. Erick is a little more flashy, Izzy is a little more steady. As long as it gets done, who cares?"

With Lackey's win, the Angels, for the first time in club history, have five starting pitchers with at least 10 wins in the same season, a milestone the ace said was "pretty cool." But the way Lackey tells it, he should have only 9 1/2 wins.

"Darren Oliver deserves half a win today," Lackey said. "That was some straight David Copperfield action getting out of that."

Oliver replaced Lackey to start the seventh with a 4-3 lead and pushed the Angels to the brink of disaster by walking Ben Francisco, giving up a single to Jhonny Peralta and walking Shin-Soo Choo to load the bases.

"That's not the first time I've loaded the bases with no outs, and it won't be the last," Oliver said. "I was a little out of whack. . . . Best-case scenario there is a strikeout and a double play."

The Angels got the second-best-case scenario. Oliver struck out Kelly Shoppach on a high 2-and-2 fastball, Aybar snagged Garko's blooper, and pinch-hitter Jamey Carroll grounded to the mound for the third out.

"That whole inning, the momentum was going their way with the walk, the hit and the walk," Scioscia said. "After the strikeout, there was a little light at the end of the tunnel, and then Erick ran down Garko's ball.

"That was a huge play at the time, and it got bigger as the game went on. I thought it would fall. Erick went a long way for it. That's as much range as you're going to see from a shortstop."

The Angels made the most of six hits, taking advantage of some aggressive baserunning and a pair of Indians errors to score three runs in the third for a 4-1 lead.

Aybar went from first to third on Mark Teixeira's single and scored when Francisco's throw from right field got by third.

With Vladimir Guerrero stealing third, Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona threw a sinker that bounced past Shoppach. Guerrero never slowed around third and scored on the wild pitch.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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