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Angels finally get it right in Toronto, 3-1

May 21, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO -- In a building where so much has gone wrong for the Angels, something went right. In fact, so much went right Tuesday night that you wondered whether those Rogers Centre demons that usually haunt the Angels were on some Canadian holiday.

The Toronto Blue Jays loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth inning and didn't score. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, who hadn't issued a walk in his previous seven outings, walked the bases loaded with one out in the ninth.

But Rodriguez got Aaron Hill to pop to third and struck out No. 3 hitter Alex Rios looking at a full-count fastball -- the reliever's 33rd pitch of the inning -- to preserve a nail-biter of a 3-1 victory for the Angels, only their 19th win in 57 games in Toronto since 1996.

"The end was a little interesting," said Angels starter John Lackey, who gave up one run and seven hits in seven innings for his first win of the season. "But we got it done."

Barely. Scot Shields replaced Lackey to start the eighth and gave up a single to Hill and walked Rios. Scott Rolen hit a potential double-play grounder that third baseman Robb Quinlan missed -- the play was generously ruled a hit -- to load the bases.

Shields struck out Matt Stairs looking at a tailing, knee-high fastball on the inside corner, and Shannon Stewart hit a sharp grounder right at second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who started an inning-ending double play.

On came reliever Rodriguez, who got Lyle Overbay to ground out to open the ninth and then turned the inning into an Aerosmith song: "Walk This Way."

Rodriguez lost command of his fastball, slider and changeup. He walked Gregg Zaun, Marco Scutaro and Brad Wilkerson, who homered off Lackey leading off the first.

After taking ball one, Hill popped out. Rios took three balls, then two called strikes, and fouled off two pitches before looking at what Rodriguez called "a fastball, right down the middle" for strike three, giving the closer his major league-leading 18th save.

"I don't know if he was getting used to a new mound or what, but he was a little out of sync," Manager Mike Scioscia said of Rodriguez. "But he came back real strong on Rios. It wasn't pretty, but Frankie has a knack for making pitches."

Told of Scioscia's comments, Rodriguez reacted incredulously.

"What?" the right-hander said. "C'mon, man. . . . The mound is not throwing the ball. It was just one of those days where I was trying to be too fine and lost control of the game. I was glad to get out of it."

Especially considering the location of his last pitch.

"Bases loaded, fastball down the middle to a good hitter, those guys are usually going to hack," Rodriguez said. "In that situation I'm going to throw a fastball or a slider. I don't know if he was looking for something off-speed."

The Angels managed only five hits, all off starter Dustin McGowan, but timed them well. Vladimir Guerrero singled off the left-field wall to load the bases in the first, and the Angels scored on Garret Anderson's double-play grounder.

Torii Hunter and Casey Kotchman hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third to make it 2-1, and Gary Matthews Jr. tripled and scored on Guerrero's sacrifice fly in the seventh to make it 3-1.

Lackey, making his second start since coming off the disabled list, was sharp, and so was the Angels defense.

Hunter raced in to catch Hill's line drive to center with the bases loaded to end the second and ran down Overbay's drive to the wall in left-center to end the sixth.

Sean Rodriguez also fielded Wilkerson's wicked one-hopper to his right to start a double play to end the seventh.

"This kid didn't have a great night at the plate, but he kept his head in the game," Scioscia said of Rodriguez, who went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. "As much as anyone on the defensive side, he was the reason we won."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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