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Santana is way smooth

He strikes out nine in eight innings to lead Angels past Seattle, 2-1. Guerrero zooms in on 11th season in a row with 25 home runs and .300 batting average.

September 23, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- One day after baseball bid an emotional farewell to Yankee Stadium, Vladimir Guerrero helped keep the memory of one of the New York Yankees' all-time greats alive.

The Angels slugger hit a home run -- his 25th -- in the fourth inning and had two other hits to push his batting average to .302 in the Angels' 2-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners in Safeco Field on Monday night.

If Guerrero, who sat out six games last week because of an irritated right knee, closes the regular season Sunday with an average of .300 or better, it would mark the 11th consecutive year in which he hit at least .300 with 25 home runs.

Only one player in major league history has hit .300 with 25 home runs in 11 consecutive seasons -- Lou Gehrig, the Hall of Fame Yankees first baseman who did it from 1927 to 1937.

"When you're mentioned at all with Lou Gehrig in any way, shape or form, it puts into context the type of player you are," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's been fun to watch first-hand.

"At times, people take Vlad for granted when he's in a little slump here or there, but this guy is as good in the box as any hitter who has ever played the game."

Guerrero's home run, a liner to left-center field against Ryan Rowland-Smith, tied the score, 1-1. The Angels scored the winning run in the seventh inning when Jeff Mathis singled and scored when left fielder Raul Ibanez booted Reggie Willits' ensuing single for an error.

Ervin Santana gave up one run and five hits over eight superb innings, striking out nine, walking none and retiring the last 12 batters he faced to improve to 16-6 and lower his earned-run average to 3.25.

Santana's gem, in which he minimized the damage by giving up only one run after the Mariners loaded the bases with no outs in the third inning, came on the heels of ace John Lackey's six-inning, two-hit, no-run, 12-strikeout effort at Texas on Sunday.

Lackey and Santana are aligned to pitch Games 1 and 2 of the American League division series next week.

"Santana was throwing 98 mph on the inside and outside corners -- that's not fair -- and Lackey struck out 12 against a good-hitting Texas team," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "We'll definitely go into the playoffs with a little confidence, knowing we have a really good shot."

Francisco Rodriguez threw a scoreless ninth inning for his 61st save, extending his major league record, reducing the Angels' magic number to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to four and sending the Mariners (57-99) to their 12th loss in a row.

Monday's game also marked the return of second baseman Howie Kendrick, who sat out 23 games because of a left hamstring strain, and outfielder Juan Rivera, who sat out seven games because of tightness in his right hip flexor.

Scioscia said last week that for Kendrick to have any chance of playing in the division series, he would have to return by today or Wednesday.

Kendrick beat that projection by a day, playing three innings in the field and grounding out in his only two at-bats before being replaced by Sean Rodriguez in the fourth.

"It felt good to be back out there," said Kendrick, who hopes to work his way up to nine innings by this weekend. "I wasn't worried about getting hurt. I know I'm healthy. I feel 100%."

A sound Kendrick could provide a considerable playoff boost -- he's batting .306 -- and give Scioscia the option of batting either Kendrick or hot-hitting Garret Anderson in the second spot.

"If the playoffs started [today] Garret would be in the two-hole," Scioscia said. "We'll look at it this week, get a better read and make a judgment.

"If Garret bats sixth, he can break up some of the right-handed hitters down there. If not, we'll have Rivera and Kendrick [batting sixth and seventh], and when they're locked in, they can hit with anybody."

Rivera started at designated hitter Monday night, flying out twice and grounding out in three at-bats, but Scioscia said Rivera's injury won't prevent him from playing the outfield in the playoffs.

--

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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