Kotchman delivers walk-off single
First baseman drives in Matthews Jr. to win opener
ANAHEIM -- Two swift cuts produced nothing but a sweaty scowl and an endless supply of dead air for Casey Kotchman. As a 3-0 hitter's count quickly evaporated into a 3-2 fight for survival, Kotchman exited the batter's box, exhaled deeply and wiped his brow.
He didn't know it yet, but those two misses were exactly what his Angels needed.
With the scored knotted at 1-1 with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Kotchman drilled a full-count slider from Ron Mahay past first baseman Mark Teixeira to score Gary Matthews Jr. from third to lift the Halos to a 2-1 win in the opener of a three-game series with Texas Friday.
Sometimes bad is better.
"I get a 3-0 count and then two aggressive swings at a couple bad pitches ends up working out," he said. "It was better to swing and miss rather than cue something off the end of the bat or hit something in play there, so it was good that I did swing and miss."
After leaving five runners on base in his previous three at-bats, Kotchman's whiff, whiff, win heroics ended an uncharacteristic offensive drought for the usually potent Angels attack. They were held to five hits entering the final inning.
But it was Garret Anderson's groundout that made Kotchman's timely piece of hitting possible.
After Matthews smoked a leadoff double, Anderson tapped a slow roller to first that allowed Matthews to advance to third and score the winning run with ease.
"He's got to be the best in the business at doing that," Kotchman said. "Moving the runner. The guy's got 2,000 hits and he's moving runners, so that's impressive for us to watch him play the game."
The contest was punctuated by a "classic pitchers' duel" as Angels manager Mike Scioscia called it, with the Halos' Kelvim Escobar and the Rangers' Kevin Milwood tossing pitches with near-surgical precision.
Through eight innings, Escobar surrendered one earned run on six hits while fanning eight batters. After forcing designated hitter Sammy Sosa into a fly out to end the eighth, he pumped his fist skyward in approval.
"I don't remember a pitch that wasn't in a good spot," Scioscia said.
Of Escobar's 110 pitches, 65 went for strikes.
"I had good command on my fastball, [and] a good breaking ball today," Escobar said. "We played great defense. I think that was the key for me to stay there a little longer."
Rangers right fielder Marlon Byrd, a victim of four fruitless plate appearances, said Escobar "uses the kitchen sink. He throws all his pitches, he doesn't fall into a pattern."
Escobar's opposition was equally impressive.
Millwood tossed seven innings for the Rangers, allowing one earned run on five hits and retiring seven batters by way of strikeout.
A "classic duel" indeed.
"He pounded the strike zone with a variety of pitches," Kotchman said. "He threw pitches that moved behind in the count; offspeed pitches behind in the count, as well as locate his fastball. It's tough when the guy has multiple pitches and commands them."
So tough in fact, that the Angels stranded 15 baserunners, their only notable production coming in the fourth on an RBI single from Matthews. After Chone Figgins was caught looking to start the inning, Orlando Cabrera singled to left. Vladimir Guerrero followed with a base-knock off the hand of Milwood before Cabrera was sent home on the Matthews single.
The Angels' 1-0 lead did not hold up long, however. In the top of the fifth, the Rangers answered back, tying the score at 1-1 on a Ramon Vasquez RBI single. Vasquez plated Gerald Laird after the catcher hit a lead-off double -- potentially a triple had he not fallen face first while rounding the corner at first -- to left field.
In the ninth, Francisco Rodriguez bolted the door on a chance for a Ranger rally. He retired Byrd on a called strike start the frame.
Cue the toss-around.
After walking Frank Catalanotto -- minor hiccup, no big deal -- Laird flied out to left and Wilkerson was sent to the dugout with a swing that, like Kotchman's caught nothing but air.
Only in this case, bad was just bad.
Larry Santana is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.