Bid for tremendous comeback falls shy
Trailing by seven in ninth, Angels put tying run on base
ARLINGTON -- On the heels of arguably the best game of his career, Joe Saunders neglected to pack his prime-time stuff for a trip to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
With Ian Kinsler unloading a pair of homers and Andruw Jones also going deep against the Angels' All-Star southpaw, the Rangers powered their way to a 10-8 decision on Friday over the Angels in the season's first meeting between the American League West rivals.
Down by seven runs with one out left, the Angels staged an improbable five-run rally, featuring Bobby Abreu's two-run double and Kendry Morales' three-run homer before Kinsler ended it when he robbed Howard Kendrick of a hit up the middle with two runners aboard.
"It took a great play by their second baseman to stop us," said Erick Aybar, who fell a single short of a cycle with his first homer of the season along with a triple and double. "We just kept going. Man, so close!"
C.J. Wilson, the third Rangers reliever of the inning, finally ended it when Kinsler, darting to his right, short-hopped Kendrick's hard shot headed toward center and flipped to Elvis Andrus covering second to force pinch-runner Reggie Willits.
"They battled their tails off at the end," Kinsler said, seven consecutive Angels having reached base in the ninth before his glove ended it. "It was a good win, except for the last out of the game. It took us awhile, but we'll take it.
"We need to come back a little more intense tomorrow so we don't let the momentum they gained in the ninth inning carry over."
The Rangers spent eight innings making Saunders and his teammates miserable.
"It's killing me," Saunders said. "I'm not pitching well here, and I've got to figure out a way to get them out. Every pitcher has a park that doesn't really agree with them, and I have to dig deep here, do whatever it takes."
Yielding seven earned runs in 5 1/3 innings after shutting out the Royals on five hits in his previous start, Saunders is 0-4 in four career outings at Rangers Ballpark with a 10.29 ERA.
At home against the same club, Saunders is 3-0 in four starts with a 1.44 ERA.
The most impressive power display by the Rangers came after Saunders had departed, when Josh Hamilton sent a drive an estimated 460 feet into the second deck in right-center against Shane Loux for a two-run blast in the eighth.
It didn't seem that important at the time, but it made all the difference when the Angels started making noise with two outs against young Derek Holland.
Hamilton's rocket-blast was the third longest in stadium history, exceeded only by Paul Sorrento (491 feet) and Jose Canseco (480) -- Sorrento for Tampa Bay in 1999, Canseco for the Rangers in 1994.
"There were some things on the field really good for us," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "and some things that were really ugly."
Aybar, promoted to the No. 2 spot in the order, has 14 hits in his past 30 at-bats, raising his average to .321.
"That's my best game in the big leagues," Aybar said. "I was seeing the ball well and getting good swings. I was really hoping to get one more at-bat so I could get the single."
His double in the ninth followed Chone Figgins' single, igniting the late firestorm. After Abreu's double to left-center scored Figgins and Aybar, Torii Hunter walked. When Morales launched his sixth homer of the season to center, a three-run shot against former Angel Darren O'Day, it was 10-8, and fans were squirming in their seats.
"We fought back hard, and I thought we were going to do it, I really did," said Mike Napoli, who singled -- his third hit of the game -- after Morales' blow.
That brought on Wilson, who walked Rivera. Willits ran for Rivera and was off with the crack of Kendrick's bat, but so was Kinsler. It was fitting that he was the guy to finish the job after what he'd already done.
The Rangers, who got six strong innings from Kevin Millwood (4-3), wasted no time going after Saunders. Michael Young doubled with one out in the first, and Hamilton tripled him home. Jones' sacrifice fly delivered Hamilton.
In the Texas third, Andrus' leadoff walk was followed by a two-run blast into the left-field seats by Kinsler. After Young singled, Jones launched a drive on the embankment beyond the center-field wall, estimated at 429 feet. The former superstar's fourth homer had Saunders down, 6-0.
The Angels finally broke through against Millwood in the fifth after Kendrick, who'd singled, was shot down at the plate by center fielder Hamilton on Figgins' single. Figgins stole second and strolled home when Aybar tripled off the wall in right-center.
Aybar's homer came in the seventh against Holland, a highly regarded lefty.
Kinsler's solo homer to left, his 11th of the season, ended Saunders' night with one out in the sixth. His 31 RBIs lead the team -- from the leadoff spot.
The Rangers added an unearned run in the seventh against Loux before Hamilton launched his missile in the eighth. Amazingly enough, it turned out to be the difference.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.