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Vernon Wells finds way to help Angels beat Tampa Bay, 6-5

Outfielder continues to struggle with the bat but pulls off a savvy baserunning play in the eighth inning that leads to the go-ahead run.

May 01, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Angels left fielder Vernon Wells avoids the tag by Rays shortstop Reid Brignac while caught in a rundown long enough for teammate Torii Hunter to score during the eighth inning Sunday at Tropicana Field.
Angels left fielder Vernon Wells avoids the tag by Rays shortstop Reid Brignac… (Mike Carlson / Associated…)

Reporting from St. Petersburg, Fla.

If you ask Vernon Wells, he'll tell you everything's fine.

"I don't panic," Wells said Sunday after a second consecutive hitless day dropped his average to .170. "There's no sense of hopelessness."

Watch Wells, however, and you'll come to a different conclusion. After striking out twice Friday, he nearly swung a bat at Tampa Bay catcher John Jaso in anger. And when he popped out twice Sunday, he flipped the bat aside in frustration each time.

"I've been here before, I've done this before," he said quietly. "It's baseball."

That cool paid off Sunday when Wells used his feet, not his bat, to help the Angels steal an eighth-inning run and a 6-5 victory over Tampa Bay, sending them on to Boston with their eighth series win in nine tries.

With Torii Hunter at third base with one out, Wells worked reliever Joel Peralta for a walk. Hank Conger followed by bouncing to second base for an apparent inning-ending double play. But rather than continuing toward second, where Ben Zobrist waited with the ball, Wells spun and headed to first base, staying in a rundown long enough for Hunter to score.

"That was a great heads-up play by Vernon," Hunter said. "He actually won the game by doing that."

But despite the win, Wells' play — and the rest of the game — helped to underscore just how inconsistent the Angels' offense has become.

After pounding out 17 hits in the series opener Friday, the Angels' big rally Sunday consisted of three walks, two singles and an error.

And although they got a solo home run from Conger in rallying from a 5-0 first-inning deficit, they were two for nine with runners in scoring position, dropping their average to .231 in that situation and leaving them to rely on a rundown to get a run in.

That partly explains how Wells found himself at first base in the eighth inning in the first place. After collecting only five extra-base hits in 27 games, Wells on Sunday was dropped to sixth in the batting order for the first time.

Yet, rather than sulk, he found a way to contribute.

"There's little things you have to do when other things aren't working," Wells said. "There's plenty of ways to help this team win. It's making a play or doing something."

That approach appears to be working for Hunter. He doubled and scored the tying run in the ninth inning on a daring baserunning play Saturday, then doubled and scored the winning run Sunday.

"The results, the numbers, are not there, but I've been playing better than whatever I'm hitting," said Hunter, who has lifted his average to .227 with seven hits in his last five games. "I just put together some good at-bats for my teammates and late in the [game] I try to make something.

"It's happening now. So just ride that bike until the wheels fall off."

Across the room, Wells predicted his hits will eventually come too.

"It's frustrating," he said. "But when they start coming, they'll be coming in bunches."

Asked whether he tires of being asked whether the next game is the one that will finally get him over the hump, Wells smiled and shook his head.

"No, he said. "Eventually, you'll be right."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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