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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Angels' Dan Haren avoids middle man to beat Indians, 2-1

Right-hander works eight innings and keeps ball away from the bullpen until new closer Scott Downs comes in and throws a perfect ninth inning to seal the victory. Torii Hunter hits a home run.

April 28, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna

CLEVELAND — Call it the Miracle by the Lake. Angels starter Dan Haren handed a one-run lead to a struggling bullpen after throwing eight superb innings against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday, and nothing bad happened.

There were no rockets to the gap or screaming drives over the wall, no wild walk-off celebrations like the ones that doomed the Angels the previous two days, no heart palpitations in the Angels dugout.

Heck, new closer Scott Downs was so efficient during a one-two-three ninth inning that sealed a 2-1 Angels victory in Progressive Field that there was no time for his teammates' blood pressure to spike or for fans watching the game back home to shield their eyes from the television.

"You lose two games in a row in the ninth, doubt and fear can get into your head, it's gonna happen," said right fielder Torii Hunter, whose solo home run in the fourth inning gave the Angels a 2-0 lead. "You have to fight that and focus on staying positive."

There has been almost nothing positive about a bullpen that blew six of its first seven save opportunities this season and took a 5.29 earned-run average into Saturday's game, but Haren eliminated all of the shaky relievers from the equation by giving up one run and four hits in eight innings and striking out seven on a 43-degree afternoon.

With Haren's pitch count at 119, Manager Mike Scioscia turned to his only reliable reliever, the 36-year-old Downs, who replaced struggling right-hander Jordan Walden as closer Friday.

The left-hander retired Travis Hafner on a grounder to second base, struck out Carlos Santana and got Jack Hannahan on a grounder to second to help the Angels end a losing streak at five games. It also ended at 11 a losing streak in one-run games dating to last season.

"Dan became his own set-up man," Scioscia said. "He got to a great point in the game. He really pitched well against a lineup with a lot of tough left-handed hitters. He couldn't have done a better job."

After a 2-hour, 27-minute rain delay, the Angels took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Howie Kendrick walked, took third on Albert Pujols' single and scored on Kendrys Morales' hard ground-ball single off the glove of second baseman Jason Kipnis. Hunter's second opposite-field home run in two days made it 2-0 in the fourth.

Kipnis singled and Asdrubal Cabrera walked to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning. Haren got Hafner to fly to left and struck out Santana, but Hannahan hit a run-scoring single to right field to make it 2-1.

Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, but on his 27th pitch of the inning, Haren struck out Shelley Duncan looking at a full-count fastball — "the most important pitch of the day," Haren said — to escape the jam.

Haren, with no margin for error, then retired 12 of the last 14 batters he faced, including Aaron Cunningham on a fly to left field with two on to end the seventh inning en route to his first win of the season.

"Oh man, he bulldogged it today," Hunter said. "He wanted that win. It was a tight game the whole way, and he stayed in there. After the game, I shook his hand, shook it hard, looked him in the eye and said, 'Thank you.' "

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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