CINCINNATI — An Angels club that was supposed to bludgeon opponents with its bats, smother them with its gloves and duck and cover when its relievers entered the game seemed to suffer a little identity crisis Monday.
Either that, or this team's bullpen is a lot better than most thought.
Forging an all-pitch, no-hit — except for Chris Iannetta — and no-field attack, the Angels outlasted the Cincinnati Reds in Great American Ball Park, Iannetta's two-out, two-run single in the 13th inning lifting them to a 3-1 victory in a grueling 4-hour 45-minute marathon, the longest season opener in franchise history.
A bullpen that was much maligned in 2011 and 2012, leading the American League with 47 blown saves, looked much aligned Monday, as six relievers — Garrett Richards, Sean Burnett, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs, Mark Lowe and Ernesto Frieri — combined for seven scoreless innings, giving up one hit.
And these weren't the lowly Houston Astros the Angels were facing. They were the defending National League Central champion Reds, who have, as Manager Mike Scioscia accurately pointed out, "some boppers" in the middle of the lineup.
"This is definitely a great character game for us because we were on the road against a terrific team, and our guys got out of some jams," Scioscia said. "When you pitch like that and hold a team down like that, you definitely want to come away with a victory."
Richards started the reliever relay when he replaced starter Jered Weaver, who gave up one run and two hits in six innings. Richards retired the side in order in the seventh, and after the Reds loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, he struck out Chris Heisey with a 94-mph fastball.
On came Burnett, the former Washington left-hander who was making his Angels debut after signing a two-year, $8-million deal last winter. Burnett struck out Jay Bruce to end the inning.
Jepsen threw a three-up, three-down ninth, and Downs retired the side in order in the 10th. Veteran right-hander Mark Lowe, released by the Dodgers on March 24 and signed to a minor league deal Wednesday, escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the 11th and struck out two of three in the 12th.
Ernesto Frieri, who warmed up five times before finally entering in the 13th, struck out two of four for the save.
"Dude, I told you this spring, we're going to be way better than people think," Frieri said. "Everyone is mentally and physically prepared. I think we're going to have a lot of fun."
The Angels survived three errors and had only six hits, including Iannetta's solo home run against Reds starter Johnny Cueto in the third and his clutch hit in the 13th, when he battled back from a 1-and-2 count, fouled off two full-count pitches and lined his game-winner to left against reliever J.J. Hoover.
Josh Hamilton sparked the rally with a one-out walk. He took second on Mark Trumbo's groundout, and after Howie Kendrick was intentionally walked, pinch-hitter Hank Conger, the last player on the Angels' bench, was hit by a pitch.
That set the table for Iannetta, who had struck out in his three previous at-bats, one with the bases loaded in the seventh.
"I was just trying to battle, avoid the strikeout," Iannetta said. "You try to put those previous at-bats out of your mind, but they're definitely in the back of your head."
The Angels are off Tuesday before the interleague series resumes Wednesday night. The bullpen will benefit from the rest, as well as the mental boost it got from the win.
"It was the kind of game where everyone gets their feet wet in pressure situations — it's great for the team and shows the character of everyone in here," Lowe said. "It's just one game, but games like this can carry over. They can put you on a winning streak or, if you lose, into a slump."