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Angels' 'machine' breaks down in ninth

Brian Fuentes, their seemingly automatic closer, blows a save for first time since May 30, giving up four runs on consecutive homers as Indians win, 8-6.

July 28, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

It had been so long since Brian Fuentes had given up a run, let alone blown a save, that the Angels and their fans were beginning to think their closer was automatic, a virtual lock to hold a ninth-inning lead.

Fuentes, it turns out, is human.

The left-hander failed to retire any of the four batters he faced Monday night, giving up four runs on two singles and two home runs in an 8-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Angel Stadium.

Victor Martinez followed ninth-inning singles by Jamey Carroll and Shin-Soo Choo with a three-run homer to left field, turning a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead, and Jhonny Peralta drove Fuentes' next pitch for a solo shot to center to make it 8-6.

Cleveland closer Kerry Wood gave up a leadoff double to Gary Matthews Jr. to open the bottom of the ninth but retired the next three batters for his 14th save, as the Indians, who banged out 20 hits, won their fifth straight game.

Fuentes, who leads the major leagues with 30 saves, had not given up a run in 19 appearances since June 4, a 17-inning span in which he allowed six hits, struck out 18 and walked five.

He converted 17 straight save opportunities and had allowed two homers in 35 2/3 innings this season.

"Those guys are swinging the bats well, Tito missed a few spots, and they hit them," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's been so good for so long, he just has to turn the page."

Fuentes' fourth blown save of the season and first since May 30 allowed Texas to trim the Angels' American League West lead to 2 1/2 games and prevented starter Joe Saunders from notching his first win since June 24.

Not that Saunders was all that deserving. The left-hander did little to inspire confidence or mitigate the need to add a quality starter before Friday's non-waiver trade deadline, giving up four runs and 10 hits in five innings.

Saunders (8-6) is 3-5 with a 6.31 earned-run average in his last 14 starts after opening with a 5-1 record and 2.66 ERA in seven games. He is 0-2 with a 9.30 ERA in his last six starts.

And if the Angels' infield hadn't turned double plays with two on to end the second and fourth innings, Saunders' line could have been worse. Of his 79 pitches, only 42 were strikes, and his command issues prompted a visit from Scioscia in the third inning.

"I wanted him to get aggressive in the zone early in the count and then expand, but he was doing the opposite," Scioscia said. "He was behind almost every hitter, which was reflected by his 12 baserunners. Joe is just not throwing the ball in good spots."

Saunders reiterated that he is physically sound and does not feel out of sync.

"It's a matter of getting ahead of guys and putting them away," he said. "I need to trust my stuff and throw strikes."

Wasted was an Angels power surge that featured four home runs -- two by first baseman Kendry Morales, who leads the team with 20 homers, and one each by Juan Rivera, who hit his 17th homer in his first plate appearance in nine days, and Mike Napoli, who hit his 15th.

Rivera, who sat out eight games because of a tight right hamstring, Morales and Napoli hit back-to-back-to-back solo shots off Carl Pavano in the second, the ninth time in club history the Angels have hit three consecutive home runs.

The last trio to accomplish the feat: Morales, Napoli and Brandon Wood against Oakland last Sept. 18.

Also wasted was some clutch relief by Kevin Jepsen, who got Peralta to ground out with runners on second and third to end the seventh inning, shortstop Erick Aybar ranging behind second base to field Peralta's shot.

With runners on first and third and one out in the eighth, Jepsen struck out Kelly Shoppach and got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground out.

The Angels, who lead the major leagues with 32 come-from-behind wins, seemed poised for another when they overcame a 2-0 second-inning deficit, but they wound up on the wrong end of a stunning comeback in the ninth.

"He's been great for us," Saunders said of Fuentes. "Hopefully, he'll have another chance [today]."


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