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Angels close out a sweep, 5-4

Rodriguez sets team record for single season with 21st save in a row, as they win their third straight in Seattle.

June 05, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- Perhaps all that early-season criticism, when his velocity was down, his command was off, his ankles were sprained, his delivery was being tweaked, and he blew a save in ugly fashion, was the best thing to happen to Francisco Rodriguez.

Motivated by those who began to doubt his ability, perturbed by speculation his career was in decline, the Angels closer responded with a 7 1/2 -week run of dominance that showed no signs of ending during Wednesday's 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Rodriguez retired the side in order in the ninth inning for his major league-leading 24th save and his 21st save in a row, the longest single-season streak in franchise history and one shy of the club record Rodriguez set from Aug. 20, 2005, to April 16, 2006.

The 26-year-old right-hander, who helped the Angels complete their first series sweep of the season and extend their winning streak to five, has allowed two earned runs and 11 hits in 22 2/3 innings of his last 24 appearances, striking out 21 and walking 11 in that span.

Rodriguez has not blown a save since an April 7 meltdown against Cleveland, when he was hobbled by a pair of ankle injuries and gave up three runs and two hits and walked two in the ninth inning of a 6-4 loss.

"I understand that people can say whatever they want, that's their opinion," Rodriguez said. "The only thing that matters to me is to keep believing in myself, to keep proving people wrong. I like that challenge."

Rodriguez's ankles have healed, and his fastball is back in the 93-mph range. His slider, one of baseball's best breaking pitches, has improved throughout the season, and his changeup has been a devastating weapon against left-handed hitters.

"I feel 100% right now, there's been no pain for a while," said Rodriguez, who can be a free agent after this season. "Everything is working. I'm throwing the changeup in situations people don't expect me to throw it in. My arm speed is back. I'm being more aggressive."

But not overworked. His save opportunities have been spread out to such a degree that he has pitched on three straight days only three times.

"I'm pitching a lot, but at the same time, my arm is fresh," Rodriguez said. "That's something you really can't control."

So are save opportunities, which are completely random, but if Rodriguez were to continue on this pace, he'd finish with 63 saves and shatter Bobby Thigpen's record of 57 saves, set in 1990.

"Oh, that's too much," Rodriguez said. "I just want to stay healthy and put up better numbers than I did last year."

Rodriguez put the finishing touches Wednesday on another strong bullpen effort, which featured Darren Oliver's scoreless seventh and Justin Speier's scoreless eighth.

That preserved the win for Jered Weaver, who didn't so much thrive as he did survive, allowing four runs and 10 hits in six sometimes shaky innings to improve to 5-6.

Twice, the Angels staked Weaver to three-run leads, scoring three times in the first on Howie Kendrick's run-scoring double and Torii Hunter's two-run single and twice in the fourth on Mike Napoli's sacrifice fly and Brandon Wood's RBI single.

But Weaver gave up runs in the first inning (Jose Lopez's home run) and the second (Yuniesky Betancourt's run-scoring groundout) and Lopez's two-run single in the fourth inning, which brought pitching coach Mike Butcher to the mound.

"I need to go back to pitching [ticked] off, to not being too fine, to going right after hitters," Weaver said. "Butch said I was giving them too much credit instead of pitching to my strengths. I need to pitch mad and not give in. One of these days, it will click in, and I'll start pitching mad instead of waiting until the fourth inning."

The sweep buried the Mariners, who many thought would contend for the American League West title, 15 1/2 games behind the Angels in the division.

"I know they're going through a tough stretch, but we've got to take advantage," Rodriguez said. "We'll take every win we can get right now, and hopefully continue to gain more ground."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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