Big-time pinch-hitters lead Angels to another victory
SAN FRANCISCO – When Mike Scioscia looked down the Angels’ bench for pinch-hitters in the eighth inning, he had at his disposal an eight-time All-Star, a couple of slugging two-time All-Stars, and a catcher hitting around .500 for the past few days.
“It’s like, ‘What do you want for dinner? You want linguine with red clam sauce, or white clam?”‘ the well-fed manager asked before the game. “They’re both good.”
Scioscia only had that excess of flavor on his bench because of some nagging injuries, but the Angels’ super subs and their suddenly solid bullpen made a late-inning feast of their 4-3 win over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.
Pinch-hitters Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero opened Los Angeles’ three-run rally with consecutive singles in the eighth inning off Tim Lincecum, who couldn’t quite finish strong in his first loss since April 12. Chone Figgins then drove home Hunter and scored the go-ahead run on Juan Rivera’s groundout when third baseman Pablo Sandoval bobbled it just long enough to ruin his chance for a play at the plate.
Even without help from fellow backups-for-a-day Bobby Abreu and Mike Napoli, the Angels’ season-high sixth straight victory sent them home for the Freeway Series with their longest winning streak of the season and the best interleague record in baseball.
“We’d much rather have those guys getting their five at-bats a night, but that’s a pretty good bench to put out there,” Scioscia said. “We beat one of the best in the game this afternoon, and we can carry a little momentum from that.”
Los Angeles snapped Lincecum’s six-game winning streak with its late surge, that included four consecutive hits off the NL Cy Young Award winner.
“It’s big, because he’s one of the best pitchers in the game right now,” said Hunter, who expects to start Friday after bruising his ribs Monday. “I’m pretty sure Mike had it in his mind to keep it close, and then look at that bench. Vladdy, Abreu, Napoli, Hunter – that’s a pretty good bench.”
Guerrero is unable to play in the field while recovering from a torn chest muscle. Napoli was resting after a four-hit performance Tuesday, and about 45 minutes before game time, Los Angeles scratched Abreu due to a stiff neck. None of it mattered for the Angels, who will host the Dodgers this weekend at a season-best six games over .500, including an 8-1 mark in interleague play.
Lincecum (6-2) allowed eight hits and struck out nine, including five of Los Angeles’ first nine hitters. He faced little trouble until the eighth, when Figgins hit an RBI double off Downs’ outstretched glove at second base. Erick Aybar’s bounding single then brought home Guerrero, who had a pinch-hit in every game of the series.
Lincecum was frustrated by Sandoval, who probably had a play at the plate on Figgins if he hadn’t double-clutched Rivera’s grounder.
“In that situation it’s clear where the play is, but he didn’t get a good grip on the ball,” Lincecum said. “It was a mental mistake. … I threw good pitches, and they were hit in the right spots at the right time. In hindsight, maybe I’ll see that a quarter-inch could have made the difference. That’s the way the game is.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy also wished Sandoval had taken a shot at nabbing Figgins.
“In that situation, you have to go for it,” Bochy said. “I don’t know if he couldn’t get a good grip, or if he thought he had no chance. This was a tough series for us.”
Travis Ishikawa homered for the Giants, who had won nine of 12 before Los Angeles’ sweep.
Matt Palmer, the Angels’ 30-year-old rookie, allowed six hits and pitched into the seventh inning against the franchise that employed him for the past seven years, but left with a deficit.
The Angels’ maligned bullpen repeatedly came through. Kevin Jepsen (1-2) got two outs for Los Angeles in the seventh, an inning that ended when left fielder Robb Quinlan threw out Matt Downs at the plate. Justin Speier stopped San Francisco’s rally in the eighth by striking out Aaron Rowand with two on.
Brian Fuentes pitched the ninth for his 18th save.
NOTES: Downs got his first major league hit in the third inning and added another in the seventh. … Quinlan caught Sandoval’s fly down the line in the sixth despite tripping on the bullpen pitcher’s mound and falling face first into the dirt. In the seventh, Quinlan made a spectacular, no-bounce throw to the plate to get Downs.
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