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ANGELS FYI

Hunter lets it fly against Wakefield

July 21, 2008|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

It flutters, it darts, it sails and it drops.

Nothing can frustrate a major league hitter quite like a well-thrown knuckleball. Just ask the Angels, who on Sunday at Angel Stadium faced Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox, one of the few remaining masters of the bizarre pitch that leaves not only hitters, but often catchers and the pitcher himself, wondering just where it will go.

Specifically ask catcher Jeff Mathis, who took a called third strike on a Wakefield pitch that limped over the plate at 57 mph, a tantalizing balloon that dared Mathis to pop it.

The Angels' Torii Hunter, who managed to homer against Wakefield in Sunday's game, has a theory he lives by when it comes to knuckleballs.

"If it's high, let it fly," said Hunter. "If it's low, let it go. There's no money to be made there."

Fellow Angel Vladimir Guerrero hasn't had many problems against Wakefield. Perhaps it's because Guerrero is possibly the best bad-ball hitter in baseball, a man who constantly attacks pitches outside the strike zone. When Guerrero homered against Wakefield on Sunday, it was his eighth hit in 17 at-bats against Wakefield, five of those hits home runs.

When Casey Kotchman came up in the eighth inning with the score tied, he faced a challenge of a different sort. After dealing with Wakefield in his previous three at-bats, Kotchman had to dig in against Boston reliever Manny Delcarmen, whose fastball was clocked in the 90s.

"It's a little bit of an adjustment," Kotchman conceded, "as far as your timing goes. Also, at that time of the day [late afternoon], there were the shadows to worry about."

Not to worry. Kotchman recalibrated and hit a game-winning two-run double.

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Don't ask, don't tell

It is obvious Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez savors every save. His animated celebration on the mound when the final out is recorded, his arms pointing to the heavens, his warm embrace of teammates, leaves no doubt about his elation.

Doing it is one thing, however. Talking about it with the media is quite another.

Rodriguez's save Sunday against the Red Sox, his 40th of the season, came in the team's 98th game. The previous mark for fastest to 40 was the 108th game, achieved by John Smoltz for the Atlanta Braves.

Rodriguez is on a pace to surpass the major league record of 57 saves by Bobby Thigpen.

"Forty is unbelievable," said Rodriguez, who reached the milestone for the fourth consecutive year since taking over as full-time closer, his high being 47 in 2006. "But when you ask me about it, you make me think about the record. I don't want to think about the record."

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Quick hits

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia says no decision has been reached about putting outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., suffering from a small tear in his left knee, on the disabled list. "We're going to talk to Dr. [Lewis] Yocum," Scioscia said. "We're going to put our heads together and evaluate what Gary can do. Right now, he feels he can contribute at the plate. There's a role for him to play. If his leg allows him, there's a big role." . . . Boston put right-hander David Aardsma on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 19, because of a strained right groin. To replace him, the Red Sox called up right-hander Justin Masterson from triple-A Pawtucket.

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steve.springer@latimes.com

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