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Russell Branyan, Angels come up just short in 4-3 loss to Athletics

Branyan, signed by the Angels on Thursday morning, nearly ties the score as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning, but his drive to the wall is caught.

May 26, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna

You get one chance to make a first impression, and Russell Branyan came within a few feet of a feat that would have endeared him to his new teammates and 33,412 fans in Angel Stadium on Thursday.

On the first pitch of his first at-bat in his first game with his new team, Branyan, a veteran slugger who signed with the Angels on Thursday morning, sent a drive to deep center field that had the look of a score-tying home run.

But he didn't get all of it. The ball carried to the wall, where Oakland outfielder Coco Crisp hauled it in to close the Athletics' 4-3 victory over the Angels, who made a game of it on Mark Trumbo's three-run homer in the ninth.

"It would have been awesome if that ball had gone out — I know one guy who would have been happy," Branyan said, nodding toward right fielder Torii Hunter.

"I would have been break-dancing on my head," Hunter said. "Trumbo came through with a three-run jack. Russell Branyan hadn't swung a bat in five days, and he gave us a chance. I love it. I got my hopes up. And then I threw up."

Branyan last played in a game May 18 for Arizona, the team that designated him for assignment last week and released him Wednesday.

The 35-year-old first baseman agreed to terms with the Angels, his 10th team in 81/2 years in the big leagues, and drove from his home in Arizona to Orange County on Wednesday night.

He took a physical Thursday morning, and he had gone a week without picking up a bat before taking some swings in the indoor cage during the game Thursday.

"I was just hanging out with my kids and my family," Branyan said. "I didn't do a thing. I wanted to get away from the game."

The first eight innings, when the Angels were held scoreless on three hits by crafty left-hander Brett Anderson, showed why the Angels signed Branyan, a career .234 hitter with 190 home runs.

The left-handed-hitting Branyan, who will share time with Trumbo at first and play some designated hitter, is an all-or-nothing type who is just as likely to hit a ball 450 feet as he is to strike out three times in a game.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder is one of 11 American League players to hit at least 25 home runs in each of the last two seasons, but he also struck out 131 times in 2010 and 149 times in 2009.

With middle-of-the-order hitter Vernon Wells on the disabled list and the team's best hitter, Howie Kendrick, going on the DL on Thursday, Branyan could be a cheap, short-term fix for a power-starved lineup that ranks 10th in the league in homers, 10th in runs and ninth in slugging percentage.

Branyan is under contract for $1 million, but the Diamondbacks will pay the bulk of that, with the Angels picking up the prorated portion of the major league minimum, about $275,000.

"He gives us some depth and some lineup options," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He gets on base, he has power. Hopefully, he'll give us a boost."

He nearly gave the Angels a huge boost Thursday after Erick Aybar led off the ninth with a single against closer Grant Balfour, Alberto Callaspo walked with two outs and Trumbo drove his team-leading eighth homer of the season, a shot to left-center field.

"It would have been nice to see it go over the wall, but it was still exciting to put this uniform on and play for this club," Branyan said. "I hope I have some more opportunities to help the team."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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