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07/29/09 3:15 AM ET
Halos' Bulger puts out Tribe's rally
Righty finishes off clutch double play en route to first save
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- It might not have the lyrical ring of Tinker to Evers to Chance, but Morales to Aybar to Bulger was poetry in motion for the Angels on Tuesday night. With a game in the balance, Angels manager Mike Scioscia replaced All-Star closer Brian Fuentes with Jason Bulger in the top of the ninth inning in front of 43,270 at Angel Stadium. Ten pitches and one gorgeous double play later, the Angels were celebrating a 7-6 triumph over the Indians -- courtesy of Gary Matthews Jr.'s three-run double in the eighth inning -- that halted a two-game losing skid and kept the Angels 2 1/2 games ahead of the persistent Rangers in the American League West. "There's never any quit in these guys," Wedge said. "Fuentes is one of the best closers in the game. But the right-hander they brought in did a good job. They turned a heck of a double play." Bulger was summoned with the bases loaded and none out after four consecutive Indians had reached against Fuentes, who began the ninth with a 7-4 lead and struggled for the second consecutive night. Facing Victor Martinez, the Tribe's leading run producer with 67 RBIs, Bulger worked the count to 2-2 and then got a breaking ball in a good spot. Martinez tapped a grounder to first baseman Kendry Morales, who wheeled and delivered a strike to shortstop Erick Aybar. Aybar pivoted and fired a strike to Bulger. The 6-foot-4 right-hander used his exceptional athleticism to take Aybar's throw running full-tilt and beat Martinez, sliding head-first, by a slender margin. "The three guys we had doing it do it about as well as anybody in baseball," Scioscia said. "Kendry Morales has a terrific arm, and he was able to get it to Aybar where he could clear [Shin-Soo Choo coming in hard]. "I don't think there's a shortstop who turns the double play better than Aybar. Bulger is our most athletic pitcher. He was a shortstop in high school. I don't know if there's another combination on our team that can make that play." As great as it was, Bulger knew his work wasn't done, with a run scoring on the double play to make it 7-6. . Bulger still had Jhonny Peralta to deal with, and the Indians shortstop had homered earlier against Jered Weaver and driven in another run with a sacrifice fly. "The last thing Sosh told me was, 'Be sure to cover first on a grounder,'" Bulger said. "It takes a little pressure off, but you still have a job to do. It was a big play, it really was, but we still had an out to get an out." Peralta grounded to Aybar, the fourth-most efficient shortstop in the Majors with his .986 fielding percentage, and his delivery to Morales was on target. "I'm ecstatic -- more for the way this team came back and won," Bulger said following his first Major League save. Bulger had been a left-side infielder until late in his junior year at Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga., when he was converted into a pitcher out of need. He was his team's closer as a senior and was taken by Arizona in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. "I didn't even know how to pitch when I signed," he said, grinning. The Angels won with two big innings, the third and eighth, dealing local product David Huff (Huntington Beach, UCLA) a loss he didn't deserve. The lefty had a 4-3 lead entering the eighth when Aybar led off with an infield single and Bobby Abreu -- reaching for the third time -- walked. This brought Joe Smith into the game, and he yielded an RBI single to Juan Rivera before getting a double-play grounder from Mike Napoli. Wedge elected to go with lefty Tony Sipp as Maicer Izturis was coming up to bat for Howard Kendrick. Sipp walked Izturis and Morales, loading the bases for Matthews. Matthews, who'd doubled to trigger the three-run third against Huff, was batting .157 against lefties this season as he stepped in -- but was a .340 hitter with runners in scoring position. That number rose to .352 when Matthews smoked a 93-mph fastball into the left-center gap against the wall, giving the Angels their first lead since Abreu singled home Aybar, who'd doubled home a run after Robb Quinlan's RBI single in the third. The Indians had gotten Weaver out of the game after five innings with eight hits and four earned runs, with Ben Francisco -- from Santa Ana and UCLA -- launching his 10th homer before Peralta unloaded his ninth three innings later, in the fifth. But for the 12th time in their past 15 wins, the Angels came roaring from behind. "We're not depending on the home run," Matthews said. "We can manufacture runs. We play a different style of baseball. This stadium isn't conducive to home run hitters, and they've built a team accordingly." The Angels have an abundance of athletes: in the infield, in the outfield, behind the plate -- and even on the mound. Bulger showed that with his all-out sprint to first to complete a double play for a memorable first save.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.