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07/09/08 1:15 AM ET
No lucky 13 for Saunders vs. rookie
All-Star goes the distance for the loss; short-lived rallies falter
By Shawn Shroyer / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Tuesday night, two left-handed 20-somethings took the mound for the Angels and Rangers. One, 27-year-old Joe Saunders, was anticipating a baby and an All-Star berth, and toed the rubber leading the American League in victories. The other, 22-year-old Matt Harrison, did so for the first time in his Major League career. Through four innings, one had faced the minimum while the other had trailed since the first. However, in this case, the one and the other weren't who you might have expected. It was actually Harrison who was setting down hitters right and left, while Saunders allowed the Rangers to scratch a run off him in the first inning. "Both pitchers went pitch for pitch against one another," manager Mike Scioscia said. "[Harrison] did well tonight. He changed speeds and Joe pitched great tonight. There's a learning curve that goes on from one at-bat to the next, but [Harrison] made adjustments, too. You have to give him credit. He pitched a good game." Harrison stifled the Angels for seven innings and the offense -- one night after hitting four home runs and scoring nine runs -- could not give Saunders the support he needed, as the Angels fell, 3-2, after a 56-minute rain delay at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "I thought as the game went on, [Chone] Figgins hit four balls on the screws and [Erick] Aybar got some good looks," Scioscia said. "But [Harrison] pitched to contact and we couldn't bunch together any hits to get to him." In Harrison's seven innings, the Angels sent the minimum to the plate five times and only in the fifth did they mount a legitimate rally. "You can't call the kid Cy Young yet, but he did a nice job tonight," Torii Hunter said. In the fifth, Hunter drew a one-out walk and was followed by a Howie Kendrick double to right-center field. Then Garret Anderson drove them both in, slapping an outside pitch that teammate Vladimir Guerrero would have been more likely to hack at up the middle for a single.
Those two runs gave Saunders a 2-1 lead to work with, but it was short-lived.
Despite a Rangers lineup chock full of league leaders in their own right in Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley, it was a rookie who took the lead from Saunders.
In the bottom of the fifth, Saunders gave up a solo home run to Chris Davis, tying it up at 2. Saunders said he made the pitch he wanted on the home run, an outside fastball to Davis, just Saunders' second homer to a left-handed bat all season.
"I've never faced him, so I was kind of getting a feel for him and he was getting a feel for me," Saunders said of Davis. "He was sitting on a fastball, so all I can do is tip my cap to him."
Kinsler and Hamilton then combined to tack on the deciding run in the sixth.
Of course, Saunders had more on his mind than just the All-Stars in the Texas lineup. During his outing, he was still awaiting word on his pregnant wife Shanel's condition.
Shanel was due to deliver the couple's first baby on Monday, but the little one hadn't arrived by game time. Nevertheless, Saunders wasn't going to use that as an excuse.
"I was locked in, and that's how you have to be," Saunders said. "So, if there were any butterflies, they were about the guys on the other side."
Like Saunders' wife, the Angels offense was in position to deliver Tuesday, but couldn't.
The Angels loaded the bases on Rangers closer C.J. Wilson with two outs in the ninth inning, and sent Juan Rivera as a pinch hitter. Rivera hit a hard grounder to the right side, but it was right at Kinsler, who tossed it to first for the final out.
"Juan squared that ball right up to second base, so we just got kind of snake-bitten tonight," Scioscia said.
Despite allowing just three runs in a complete game, Saunders was saddled with the loss. But after the game, his attention turned to his wife and coming baby.
He said he would fly back to California on Wednesday morning, hoping that the baby will wait for him. Saunders plans to throw a bullpen session in Rancho Cucamonga on Friday and will rejoin the Angels in Oakland on Saturday.
Fortunately for him, he didn't have to leave in the middle of his start.
"They say the first one takes the longest, so I was hoping if she did have it during the game, I'd be able to catch the second half," Saunders said.
|"You can't call the kid Cy Young yet, but he did a nice job tonight."|
|-- Torii Hunter, on Rangers rookie Matt Harrison|
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.