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Angels have Brian Fuentes' back in win

Normally reliable closer gives up a tying homer in ninth inning, but Angels win it in the 10th on Erick Aybar's run-scoring single.

September 09, 2009|KEVIN BAXTER | ON THE ANGELS

Scott Kazmir said goodbye to his old fans in Tampa Bay on Tuesday morning, taking out a half-page color ad in the St. Petersburg Times to thank them for their support during his five years with the Rays.

Then Tuesday night he said hello to his new fans in Anaheim, introducing himself with an impressive seven-inning effort against the Seattle Mariners in his first home start as an Angel.

Unfortunately for Kazmir, he may have said good night a little too early. Because two innings after he left, closer Brian Fuentes surrendered the lead -- and Kazmir's win -- when Mike Sweeney homered leading off the ninth.

But Erick Aybar made all that moot an inning later, grounding a two-out single under the glove of diving second baseman Jose Lopez and into center field to score Bobby Abreu from third and give the Angels a 3-2, 10-inning victory.

And that made Aybar an uncommon, if reluctant, hero.

"How can I say this?" he began in Spanish. "If the chance comes, I'll take it. I'll do the best I can. I wasn't looking for anything in particular. I was just looking to make contact. We had chance after chance. We just had to keep trying."

In fact the Angels, who loaded the bases twice in the first nine innings, stranded 11 men on the night. Yet they still managed to win for the seventh time in 10 extra-inning games, and for the 15th time in their final at-bat, numbers that have helped build a 4 1/2 -game lead over the Texas Rangers, who swept a doubleheader in Cleveland on Tuesday

And before the late-inning fireworks, Kazmir certainly made his presence felt. Acquired two weeks ago to give the Angels' beleaguered pitching staff a boost down the stretch, the left-hander has more than delivered. In two starts with the Angels, both against Seattle, Kazmir has allowed two earned runs and six hits in 13 1/3 innings.

For Angels fans just getting acquainted with Kazmir, consider that a preview of coming attractions, says pitching coach Mike Butcher, who worked with Kazmir for a season in Tampa Bay. "Quality start after quality start," he said. "You're going to see a guy who's very competitive."

Yet he has nothing but a loss to show for that with the Angels. You can chalk that up partly to a slump that has seen his new teammates hit .216 and average fewer than three runs in seven games this month, and partly to a shaky Fuentes, who cost Kazmir his first win as an Angel by blowing a save for the sixth time in 45 tries this season.

"I'm just glad we got the win, no matter who got it," Kazmir said. "If we'd have gotten the loss, I would have been a little upset."

For the record, the win went to Matt Palmer (10-1), who left two Mariners on in the 10th. But given the way the game started, Palmer probably figured he was looking at a night off.

Kazmir needed just three pitches to strike out Ichiro Suzuki, the first batter he faced as an Angel in his new home. He gave up a solo home run to the second, Franklin Gutierrez.

But that was the only run he would give up, and the only hit through the first 5 2/3 innings. At one point he set down 10 in a row between a pair of Chone Figgins errors.

That gave his new teammates time to figure out Seattle starter Felix Hernandez, who shut them out for eight innings in his last start. This time the Angels were on the scoreboard in less than three innings, though they got there without the benefit of a hit, scoring on three walks and Abreu's sacrifice fly.

Two innings later, after giving up a walk and a single, Hernandez watched sure-handed shortstop Jack Wilson turn what should have been an inning-ending double-play ball into a 2-1 Angels lead, with Figgins racing in from second when Abreu's grounder bounced off Wilson's leg into shallow left field.

After Sweeney's homer tied it, Abreu began the 10th with a single off reliever Miguel Batista (6-4), was sacrificed to second, took third on an out and scored on Abreu's hit.


Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.

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