08/21/08 12:10 AM ET
Angels stun Rays in series finale
Anderson's RBI single caps improbable ninth-inning rally
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
That slice of history wasn't on his mind, however, when he stepped into the batter's box with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a quirky game that was there for the taking Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, the Angels' chamber of horrors this season.
"That particular at-bat was more related to the at-bat before [in the seventh inning] when I got too picky up there and ended up striking out [looking] with the bases loaded," Anderson said. "If it's anything close, I'm swinging."
Bradford wheeled a fastball on the outer part of the strike zone, and Anderson hit it "good enough," as he put it. The best Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura could do was knock it down with his back hand, enabling Mark Teixeira to score the winning run in a 5-4 decision that ended a three-game losing streak and sent the Angels home smiling.
Francisco Rodriguez's 48th save -- the win going to Jose Arredondo (5-1) after six sturdy innings from Jered Weaver -- established a new club record for the 26-year-old right-hander from Caracas, Venezuela.
Rodriguez eclipsed his earlier mark of 47, set in 2006.
"It means a lot," K-Rod said. "It's been a season with a lot of ups and downs, and we've still got a lot of work to do."
Anderson extended his hitting streak to 23 games, five shy of his club record from 1998, but he was more enthused averting a second straight sweep in the Rays' home loft.
"It's just good to get a win on the board," the hit man said.
Informed that the Angels had reclaimed the best record in the American League from the East Division-leading Rays by a half-game, Torii Hunter beamed.
"That's what's important for us," the center fielder said. "Now we go home. It's a lot of fun playing at home -- outside, on grass. You can see the ball. They can blow up this dome. I hate domes."
When the Cubs lost later on Wednesday night, the Angels gained the distinction of having the best record in baseball.
If they finish with the best record in the AL, the Angels assure themselves of home-field advantage all through the postseason. That is their motivation even as they lead their division by a half-mile.
Hunter might remind his teammates that his former club -- the Twins, the club they face for four games starting Thursday night at Angel Stadium -- won the World Series in 1987 and 1991 without claiming a single road game. They went 4-0 in the Metrodome and 0-3 at St. Louis and at Atlanta, respectively.
Dome, sweet dome. But only if it's your home.
The Rays are 47-18 at home, but the Angels at least avoided going 0-6 there as the Rays took the season series, six games to three.
"In October," K-Rod said, "it's going to be different."
Hunter has a feeling the Angels will be seeing the Rays down the road, in October.
"We had to win one here, to kind of leave a mark," he said. "I'm pretty sure we'll see these guys in the playoffs, if they can keep it up. We might be seeing them in the playoffs."
Weaver fell behind by three runs in the second inning on four consecutive hits -- three singles and a fly-ball triple by Jason Bartlett that Hunter lost in the white cover of the dome as he pursued it in deep-left-center field with left fielder Juan Rivera.
"I'll take the blame," Hunter said. "I didn't see it."
The Angels rebounded swiftly with a four-run third against Matt Garza. Sean Rodriguez, starting at second base for slumping Howie Kendrick, worked a full-count walk and Jeff Mathis singled to left-center. Chone Figgins' double to left delivered Rodriguez, and Erick Aybar's triple to the right-center-field gap produced two runs.
When Mark Teixeira grounded out, Aybar scored and Weaver had a one-run lead that he tenaciously protected through the sixth before turning it over to Darren Oliver, and then to the precocious Arredondo.
"There was some bad luck, things not going my way -- I had to battle to keep us in the game," said Weaver, who struck out the side in the first and third, finishing with nine punch-outs to tie a career high. He yielded just one hit, a single, after Bartlett's fly ball fell between Hunter and Rivera.
"This one was not easy," a grinning Arredondo said.
The young reliever surrendered a tying run in the eighth on doubles by B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena, and a searing single by Cliff Floyd had runners on the corners with one out. But Arredondo retired Willy Aybar on a popup and struck out Ben Zobrist to keep the game even.
Facing dominant Grant Balfour in the ninth, Figgins walked and stopped at second on Teixeira's single. Figgins beat Shawn Riggans' throw to third as the lead leg on a double steal with Teixeira, leaving a base open that Vladimir Guerrero quickly occupied with an intentional pass.
Bradford was summoned by manager Joe Maddon, and he got Hunter to tap to third for a force at home. This brought Anderson to the plate, the memory of that third strike two innings earlier burning in his head.
"This series [Iwamura] has been playing me to the hole," Anderson said. "He scooted up the middle more, and that surprised me. I thought it had a shot to get through, but he got a glove on it."
Initially the play was ruled an error, but that was quickly changed.
"Absolutely," manager Mike Scioscia said, when asked if he thought Iwamura might have prevented a run with his glove save. "That's a pretty tough play. He's got to dive and knock the ball down. No way that's even close to an error."
When it was changed to a hit, Anderson's streak was extended to 23 games.
"I've been there before," he said, referring to the 28-game trip in 1998.
One last movement was crucial to the Angels' happy ending.
After Gabe Gross' leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth, Aybar was cheating toward the middle, thinking the Rays might bunt, when pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro hit a grounder that the shortstop consumed near the bag, swiftly turning the double play. When Bartlett grounded to Figgins at third, K-Rod had his save, and the Angels had a very big win.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.