06/04/09 6:28 PM ET
Halos catch a late break from Kendrick
Slugger's headfirst slide into home in ninth seals victory
By David Singh / Special to MLB.com
For most of this season, the Angels second baseman has struggled to contribute on a daily basis. On Tuesday, he fell under more scrutiny with a baserunning gaffe that saw him forget the number of outs in the inning.
But in Thursday's series-clinching 6-5 win over the Blue Jays, Kendrick was finally able to remove a large weight from his shoulders by starting an Angels rally and then scoring the game-winning run.
"I ain't going to lie to you. I was happy," Kendrick said. "It feels good after the ups and downs. I felt like today was a good day."
With the score tied at 5 in the top of the ninth inning, Kendrick led off the frame with a bunt single down the third-base line that surprised the Jays. Kendrick then advanced to third on Chone Figgins' single before scoring on Erick Aybar's double-play groundout. That play gave the Angels a 6-5 lead, which was preserved by closer Brian Fuentes' 14th save of the season.
Kendrick had entered the day hitting just .227 on the season and recorded just one hit in his previous 17 at-bats. Because of that, he said that he'd discussed the option of a bunt with Figgins in the on-deck circle, during the ninth inning.
"I said, 'Man, if [the third baseman is] back, I should probably try it,'" recalled Kendrick. "He said, 'Go ahead. If he's going to give it to you, try to take it.' And right there he was back and I just tried to put it down.
"All year I've been up and down with the bat. That one situation right there gave me the opportunity to lay down a bunt."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who was upset with Kendrick following Tuesday's miscue, was happy to see the improvement.
"Howie played a good game this afternoon," Scioscia said. "I know he feels good about contributing."
Thursday's victory allowed Los Angeles (27-25) to win three of its past four games. The way Angels starter John Lackey was pitching, the game seemed like it would be in the bag early on. Lackey was dominant at times over his seven innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits. He left the game with a 5-2 lead, but because of his bullpen's struggles, Lackey was pegged with a no-decision.
Entering the bottom of the eighth inning with the 5-2 lead, Angels reliever Darren Oliver allowed Toronto (30-26) to shorten its deficit when Lyle Overbay stroked a double to right field, just under the glove of a diving Gary Matthews Jr., to plate two runs and cut the score to 5-4.
Right-hander Justin Speier came on to relieve Oliver but fared no better. He loaded the bases before surrendering the tying run on Marco Scutaro's sacrifice fly that knotted the score at 5.
The bullpen has been a sore spot for the Halos all season long -- the group entered the day with a 5.68 ERA, which was the worst in the American League. And while Speier and Oliver did not help matters much, Scioscia was not worried about the state of his relief corps.
"It's a work in progress," Scioscia said. "But I know we're moving in the right direction down there. The way Justin is throwing the ball, and Jason Bulger, [Jose] Arredondo, Fuentes is getting it done -- we're moving in the right direction. I think we have some versatility and some guys that can pitch ahead of Brian and get the job done."
Speier also claims that given time, the bullpen picture will sort itself out and begin to resemble last year's group, which was one of the better 'pens in the AL.
"There are a lot of guys down there with good track records," Speier said. "We all have the same stuff that we did last year, so I think we're going to be fine."
While the Angels bullpen struggled on Thursday, the club's offense has had no such trouble lately. After scoring eight runs on Wednesday night, the Los Angeles hitters immediately picked up where they left off.
The Halos provided quick run support for Lackey in the first inning on Thursday, striking for three runs against Toronto starter Brian Tallet. Figgins led off the game with a single and later scored on Vladimir Guerrero's RBI single. Torii Hunter then drove Guerrero home with his own RBI single to push the score to 2-0. Juan Rivera added a third run with his RBI ground-rule double.
The Angels added insurance runs in the fourth inning, on Figgins' RBI single, and then again in the sixth, when catcher Mike Napoli deposited a 3-0 Tallet offering over the left-field wall for a solo homer that gave the Angels a 5-1 lead. It was Napoli's eighth homer of the year, tying him with Kendry Morales for second on the team.
David Singh is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.