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ANGELS 7, KANSAS CITY 2

Angels cruise past the Royals

Angels break out of an offensive slump and increase their lead in the AL West to 51/2 games.

September 07, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | ON THE ANGELS

KANSAS CITY, MO. — For the first time in five days, an Angels pitcher did not walk a tightrope from the dugout to the mound every inning wondering if one misplaced fastball, one hanging breaking ball, was going to cost him the game.

An offense that scored all of five runs in the previous four games produced seven runs through four innings Sunday, providing a nice safety net for left-hander Joe Saunders, who was not exactly in peak form.

Saunders gave up 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings, but the Angels defense kept him and two relievers out of harm's way with four double plays, and the offense kept Kansas City at arm's length with 11 hits and five walks.

The result was a 7-2 victory over the Royals in Kauffman Stadium that improved the Angels to 9-0 against Kansas City and pushed their American League West lead over the Texas Rangers to 5 1/2 games.

"It was good to get those early runs," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Joe wasn't quite as sharp as we've seen. He was up in the zone a bit and struggled to get into some good counts. He had to work hard to get into the sixth inning."

By then, Saunders, who has won all three of his games since returning from the shoulder tightness that sidelined him for three weeks in August, had a five-run lead, a luxury for an Angels starter on this trip.

Three of the team's previous four games were decided by 2-1 scores, with one going extra innings. The other game, a 3-0 loss to Seattle on Wednesday, was scoreless through six innings.

"As a starting pitcher, it's always nice to get that lead, to get some comfort," said Saunders, who improved to 12-7 and lowered his earned-run average to 4.97.

"It was a battle today. I made some good pitches, and they put some pretty good swings on them. It was one of those days where there was never an easy inning. Did I have a 1-2-3 inning? I don't think so."

The Royals had baserunners in every inning against Saunders, but the pitcher faced the minimum three batters in the first and fifth innings because third baseman Chone Figgins started double plays in each inning.

Second baseman Howie Kendrick, playing for the first time in five days, turned both of those double plays. He also started double plays that were turned by shortstop Erick Aybar to end the sixth and eighth innings.

"Whether it's Aybar and Kendrick or Aybar and [Maicer] Izturis, the infield defense has been spectacular," Saunders said. "It's nice."

So is a little run support.

Aybar tied a club record with two triples, and Bobby Abreu drove in three runs with a double and a single against right-hander Luke Hochevar, a welcome sight for the Angels after facing two Cy Young Award contenders, Kansas City's Zack Greinke and Seattle's Felix Hernandez, in the previous three games.

The Angels got five hits in a four-run second and knocked out Hochevar with a three-run, three-hit fourth.

Gary Matthews Jr. sparked the second-inning rally with a one-out single to right. Mike Napoli, who has two hits in his last 27 at-bats, doubled to left to drive in Matthews.

Kendrick, who is batting .361 (48 for 133) since his July 3 recall from triple A, lined a run-scoring single to center, and Aybar hit a run-scoring triple to right-center, tying a club record with his second triple of the game.

Abreu, in a slump in which he was hitting .214 since the beginning of August, capped the rally with a run-scoring single to right for a 4-0 lead.

Kendrick started the fourth-inning rally with an infield single, Figgins walked, Abreu hit a two-out, two-run double to right-center, and Torii Hunter greeted reliever Dusty Hughes, in his major league debut, with an RBI single to left-center.

"We were patient, we got into some good hitting counts and hit well [four for 10] with runners in scoring position," Scioscia said. "We had 11 hits and five walks, so we did some things in the batter's box that we need to continue to see."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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