Escobar saves Angels from sweep
Right-hander tosses 7 2/3 scoreless to notch 11th victory
ST. PETERSBURG -- If there was one man who could save the Angels from being swept by the worst team in baseball, it was Kelvim Escobar.
Escobar knew that, with the Angels' offense lacking pop lately, he was going to have to do his best to keep the visiting team off of the board in order for the Halos to have a chance at winning the series finale Thursday.
And the right-hander didn't disappoint.
Escobar tossed 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball against the Rays and scattered just five hits through the first six innings en route to his 11th victory of the season, a 3-0 win.
"[Escobar] has been there all year for us, and he just keeps going," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's great to see him healthy and as impressive as he is."
He now has wins in a career-high five straight decisions and has equaled his win total of all of last season. What's more, Thursday's victory marked the third straight start and ninth time this year in which he's allowed one run or less.
"He's been on the money this whole season," Scioscia said. "So I think it goes past the last couple of games he's pitched. Along with [12-game winner] John Lackey, I'd hate to see where we'd be without these guys.
"I think [Escobar's] confidence is high, he's getting a little bit of support to match what he can do on the mound, and it's leading to some wins for him and that's good to see."
Things looked a bit shaky in the early going. Escobar put two men on the bases in the first inning, and then was forced to deal himself out of a bases-loaded jam in the second that left his pitch count flirting with 50 after just two frames of work. There was also so much cut on his pitches during that time that catcher Jeff Mathis had a hard time controlling them.
"[The ball] was really dancing at the beginning," said Mathis, who made just his fourth start behind the plate this season after being recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake on July 2.
A between-innings conversation with pitching coach Mike Butcher corrected the problem -- Escobar wasn't coming enough over the top in his delivery -- and he was good to go for the rest of the day. Escobar downed 10 of the next 11 hitters he faced and finished with five punchouts and three walks.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Angels, who'd come into the series Tuesday tied with Boston for the most wins (55) in baseball. The Red Sox have added one to that total, so the Halos' win at Tampa Bay effectively pulled them back into a tie with Boston, pending the results of the Red Sox-White Sox game to be played Thursday at 4:05 p.m. PT.
"After going down the first two games here, we definitely wanted to win today," Escobar said. "It's huge for us to get a 'W' before [we go to play] the Twins."
The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a Robb Quinlan groundout. It turned out to be the only run they'd need to walk away with a victory, but the Halos would add a few more before the game was through.
They struck twice again, on a sixth-inning single from Garret Anderson to break open the lead. Vladimir Guerrero singled to center field and came around to score the first run, which represented the 1,000th run scored of his 12-year career. Gary Matthews Jr., who doubled in his at-bat, scored behind Guerrero on Anderson's two-run single.
"On the offensive side, again we struggled," Scioscia said. "We kind of scratched and clawed that first run.
"We're still trying to unlock some things offensively and we got some good situational hitting today. Hopefully, we can start pressuring clubs a little more and take a little bit of the pressure off of that pitching staff."
For the Angels, it was just what the doctor ordered. Mired in a funk Scioscia referred to as the "dog days of summer," the team had won just five of 12 in July after finishing up the month of June at a 17-9 clip. The Halos also hit a Major League-leading .319 as a team during June, but have gone just 104-for-443 (.235) since.
Sometimes, said Anderson, it isn't as easy as it looks.
"It's not easy to hit," said Anderson, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs on Thursday. "It's not. Sometimes, when we're going through stretches where we're doing well it looks easy, but it's not."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.