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Guerrero powers the Angels

He hits two home runs, including a two-run shot in the ninth inning of a 6-4 win over Seattle.

September 26, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- Vladimir Guerrero can be a tough act to follow, as Angels center fielder Torii Hunter has learned this season.

In what could be a very encouraging sign as the playoffs near, Guerrero crushed a pair of home runs, including a game-winning shot in the ninth inning, to lead the Angels to a 6-4 win over the Seattle Mariners in Safeco Field on Thursday night.

Hunter was in the on-deck circle for both, a solo shot to right off Sean Green in the sixth and a tiebreaking, two-run shot to left off closer J.J. Putz in the ninth, Guerrero's 27th homer of the season and 36th multiple-homer game of his career.

"He's one of the best hitters of all time, and he showed it tonight," Hunter said. "You guys don't know how hard it is to hit behind him when he puts on a show like he did tonight."

Guerrero's power surge pushed the Angels to their 99th win, tying a franchise record set in 2002, and moved them to within one win, or one Tampa Bay loss, of clinching the best record in the American League and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Guerrero missed six games last week because of an irritated right knee, but he has started the last six games, three in right field, and appears to be getting healthy just in time for the playoffs, which could be a huge boon to the Angels' World Series hopes.

"This last little time off has paid dividends," Manager Mike Scioscia said of Guerrero, who has three homers in the last five games. "He's attacking the ball in the box as well as he ever has."

Guerrero, who pushed his average to .304, said the knee has improved with rest and treatment.

"The swelling has gone down, I'm happy," Guerrero said through an interpreter. "The main thing is, I'm playing."

Scioscia said earlier this week that Guerrero, who has had knee problems for three straight seasons, will consider undergoing surgery this winter to clean out or repair the knee.

Guerrero had knee surgery in 1995, which he said "helped a lot," but he hasn't committed to another procedure this winter.

"Nobody has told me so far that I'm going to have surgery," Guerrero said. "I'm going to wait on it. I'm going to take some time."

He isn't the only Angels outfielder with a bum knee looking to make a mark in the playoffs.

Gary Matthews Jr., who hit .333 (24 for 72) in his previous 21 games, started in the outfield for the seventh time in nine games, while Juan Rivera, who took Matthews' job with his impressive second-half hitting, sat out his third game in a row.

Rivera, who returned Monday after missing seven games because of tightness in his right hip, said he is "100%," which raised the question: Has Matthews won his job back?

Scioscia wouldn't go that far, but it appears Matthews, slowed all season by a slight tear in his left knee, could play a more prominent role in the playoffs than he has in the second half.

Matthews is hitting .238, but the switch-hitter is batting .285 from the right side. Because his right knee -- the back knee when hitting from the right side -- is more stable, Matthews has been more comfortable, and effective, from the right side.

Scioscia could use both Matthews, who hit a two-run homer Tuesday night, and the right-handed-hitting Rivera in the same lineup against a left-hander such as Boston's Jon Lester.

"He's come a long way, especially with the way he has swung the bat from the right side, which is encouraging," Scioscia said of Matthews, who walked twice and drove in a run with a ground ball Thursday night. "Our depth is growing with his re-emergence."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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