Saunders shackles Indians
Napoli at the center of key rally in Milwaukee victory
MILWAUKEE -- Joe Saunders found what he needed on Wednesday night, and so did his batterymate, Mike Napoli.Because Saunders got a ground ball off the bat of Ryan Garko and Napoli found his hitting stroke with a simple adjustment and lighter grip, the Angels departed Miller Park with a 4-1 decision over Cleveland in front of 16,375 enthusiastic fans, ending L.A.'s two-game losing spin and evening the three-game series at one apiece going into Thursday's matinee. "It feels great to call a game like that, have Joe throw a good game," Napoli was saying, "and it felt good to square up a ball. It was a good night all around." The Angels were clinging to a 1-0 lead, provided by leadoff catalyst Gary Matthews Jr. in the first inning, when the Indians loaded the bases with one out in the third on two walks and a single. Garko walked up and ran the count to 3-1, leaving Saunders in a challenging position. "I've got to keep this ball down, throw it for a strike," Saunders said, recalling his mind-set, "and if he hits it, hopefully it's on the ground." Garko banged the two-seam fastball to shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and second baseman Howie Kendrick turned a double play that preserved the lead and restored order and clarity to all the Angels' plans. "It was huge," Saunders said. "That was a big turning point in the game for me." Saunders hung up zeros until Jhonny Peralta went the opposite way to right field for his first homer of the season leading off the seventh. Justin Speier replaced Saunders with two outs in the inning, the left-hander having struck out five while walking four and yielding four hits to go to 1-0. "Great effort by Joe," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's a tough offensive club on the other side; they make you work for outs. His command got a little bit away from him [during the third], but that was a huge at-bat, a 3-1 count on Garko when he got the double play. Obviously, it kept the momentum on our side." The Angels had seized the lead against Jake Westbrook (0-1) with an unearned run in the first when Matthews singled and scored when, after an error at third by Andy Marte and a walk, Garret Anderson hit into a double play. Westbrook kept it at 1-0 until the sixth, when he hit Casey Kotchman with a pitch with one out and served up an opposite-field triple with two outs to Napoli, who scored on a wild pitch. "Mike has been gripping sawdust out of the bat," Scioscia said of his powerful catcher. "He's trying so hard to contribute offensively. He's got to get back in his game, and it starts with trying to hit the ball up the middle." That's precisely what Napoli has been emphasizing to himself in early hitting sessions. He knows he gets himself out by trying to swing too hard, and that he has the strength to drive the ball with a smoother stroke. "That's the whole thing," he said after registering his first RBI of the season with his first career triple. "I don't have to muscle up. I felt great early in the spring, but when I had a week off with my wisdom teeth [removed], I got away from what I was doing and got in some bad habits. "I just have to use the whole field, don't pull off the ball ... and play the game." The Angels extended their lead in the ninth when Cabrera's single against Jason Davis scored Matthews, who'd singled and stolen second with two outs. Saunders shaved his ERA to 2.92 in two starts, and he's not stressing over where he's headed as rehabbing Jered Weaver and Bartolo Colon loom on the horizon, ready to reassume rotation slots. "I don't do anything about it," Saunders said. "I just control what I can control, pitch my game, make every start count. Obviously, I want to be here. They know I can pitch here, and I know I can pitch here. "I think I made my case last year and two years ago." After Speier finished the seventh, retiring dangerous Grady Sizemore on an infield out to leave a runner stranded, Scot Shields pitched an overpowering eighth, striking out two of three men he faced. Shields has eight strikeouts against one walk and two hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Francisco Rodriguez closed it out in the ninth for his fourth save, adding another flourish to a bullpen that has been dominant in yielding four earned runs in 26 innings for a 1.38 ERA. "This is as good as we've had," Scioscia said, cataloguing six years of superb bullpens starting with the 2002 champions. "These guys are going to get after those last six, seven outs in a game."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.