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Angels pick off the Yankees, 6-4

Closer Jordan Walden catches Curtis Granderson off first base after faking a throw to third base to end the game. Bobby Abreu hits two home runs for the Angels.

August 09, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Angels designated hitter Bobby Abreu, left, is congratulated by teammate Torii Hunter after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of the Angels' 6-4 victory Tuesday over the New York Yankees.
Angels designated hitter Bobby Abreu, left, is congratulated by teammate… (Justin Lane / EPA )

Reporting from New York — This pennant race thing is new to so many of the Angels, including the kid closer that was not even in the major leagues this time last year.

So, when Jordan Walden was in the middle of the play that clinched the Angels' 6-4 victory over the New York Yankees on Tuesday, exactly what was he thinking?

"Oh crap," Walden said.

He thought he had messed up. He had not.

That fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move, the one that never works? Walden had just gotten it to work, but it took him more than a split second to realize that.

The Angels can laugh at that. They can breathe a sigh of relief at the performance of slumping outfielder Bobby Abreu, who hit two home runs, including the game inner against legendary closer Mariano Rivera.

"We beat the best closer in the game," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Hopefully, that's going to give Bobby a lift."

That would be a long-awaited lift. The Angels beat Rivera for the first time since Aug. 1, 2008, when Mark Teixeira played for them and Abreu played for the Yankees. Rivera had not given up a home run to a former teammate since Mike Stanley took him deep 13 years ago.

It only seemed that long since Abreu had homered twice in a game. He had four home runs in his first 385 at-bats this season — one in April, one in May, one in June, one in July — then two in his final three at-bats Tuesday.

Before he hit the first one, he had 16 hits in his previous 105 at-bats, translating to a .152 average for a career .296 hitter.

"It was tough," Abreu said. "I've never been in that situation before. I've had 36, 40 (at-bats in a slump), never 100 like that."

The Angels batted him cleanup Tuesday. They stuck with him because, well, they have to. They built this team on pitching, but they cannot get to October — let alone win in October — without more from Abreu, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Abreu is 37, Hunter 36, Wells 32. They are fixtures in the middle of the lineup, even though their best years appear behind them.

Hunter, who had three hits Tuesday, is batting .252 with 14 home runs. Wells, who had no hits, is batting .210 with 16 home runs.

"I don't think we expect those guys to give us their peak years," Scioscia said. "What we look for is just an average year. There is a lot of upside from where they are now. We need to bridge that gap."

Walden, making his Yankee Stadium debut, was nursing a two-run lead with one out to go, with men on first and third and Teixeira and his 32 home runs at bat. The Angels had called for several pickoff plays. None worked, but Scioscia called the fake-to-third, throw-to-first, and Walden anticipated first baseman Mark Trumbo telling him to hold the ball.

"Normally, Trumbo would be, 'No, no, no,' " Walden said. "This time, I didn't hear anything. I thought, 'Oh crap. Something is different."

Walden caught his breath, then caught Curtis Granderson too far off first base. The Angels had won, and they could exhale.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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