Chone Figgins and Maicer Izturis are normally the table-setters for the Los Angeles Angels. Against the Minnesota Twins, they looked as though they belonged in the middle of the lineup.
Figgins and Izturis both homered during a nine-run outburst in the fourth inning, and the AL West leaders extended their winning streak to a season-high eight games Saturday with an 11-5 victory over the faltering Twins.
“Our ability to set the table and hit with runners in scoring position is there, and it starts with what Figgy does and what Izturis does,” manager Mike Scioscia said.
“Those guys during this offense stretch – it’s very apparent that they’re doing some key things like driving the ball little bit better. But the situational hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, is every bit as good as any team I’ve had here.”
Matt Palmer (8-1) allowed two runs and four hits in five innings, striking out three and walking three. The Angels have averaged 7.33 runs in the 30-year-old rookie’s 12 starts.
Nick Blackburn (8-5) retired his first nine batters before Figgins led off the fourth with his third homer – the first of five consecutive hits and 10 altogether by Los Angeles during its highest-scoring inning of the season.
“He was keeping the ball down and keeping it out of the hitting zone,” Figgins said. “But in the fourth, he got the ball up for us. And when we put runners on base, we’ve got opportunities to put a lot of runs on the board.”
The Angels (58-38), who came in leading the majors with a .286 batting average despite the absence of injured outfielders Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Juan Rivera, have won 12 of their last 13 and are a season-high 20 games over .500.
Blackburn was charged with six runs and six hits over 3 2-3 innings in his second-shortest outing of 2009. The right-hander has a 1.80 ERA over the first two innings in his 20 starts this season – but a whopping 6.00 ERA the next two innings. The Angels did a good job of making the necessary adjustments.
“That’s probably part of it. But it’s also on me, too,” Blackburn said. “I think we’ve been doing pretty good so far this year with mixing pitches up the second time around. All my stuff was pretty effective today. But in the fourth, everything just got up a little bit. It’s really frustrating. I’m kind of tired with what’s going on.”
Izturis doubled after Figgins’ homer and scored on a single by Bobby Abreu, who came home on Kendry Morales‘ double. Howie Kendrick added a two-out RBI single before Blackburn walked his final batter, Gary Matthews Jr.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey came on and gave up RBI singles to Reggie Willits and Figgins before Izturis drove a 1-0 pitch to right for his three-run homer that capped the rally and gave the Angels a 9-2 lead.
“Blakie just kind of lost it, and our knuckleballer couldn’t get anybody out,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Dickey couldn’t find his knuckler and they just whacked him all over the place, so we had to kill our bullpen again and just tried to hang in there.”
The Twins have been outscored 39-14 during their four-game losing streak. Gardenhire kept the clubhouse door closed for 22 minutes after the final out – just 6 minutes fewer than it took Blackburn and Dickey to get three outs in the fourth.
“It was ugly,” Gardenhire said. “We were throwing to the wrong base and missing cutoff men. It’s what you preach in Little League and all the way up. It’s not acceptable, and not the way we play. We’ve talked about it over and over again, and that’s enough. I’ve seen enough of that. It’s kind of getting old. It is old, and I don’t want to see it anymore.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to the Angels, because they’re doing what we like to do. They’re executing, running around the bases, everything we talk about. So we’ve got to find a way to find it in ourselves to get back to the right way to play the game.”
The two-time defending AL West champions scored four or more runs in an inning for the 12th time in their last 19 games. It was the first time that three Angels batters each had two hits in the same inning since May 12, 1997, when they used a 13-run seventh to beat the Chicago White Sox 16-8 in Anaheim.
After stranding two runners in each of the first two innings, the Twins took a 2-0 lead in the third when Joe Mauer led off with a single and Jason Kubel hit his 18th home run. Kubel, who leads Minnesota with 58 RBIs, also had a run-scoring double during a three-run seventh against Shane Loux.
Mauer, vying for his third AL batting title in four seasons, was 2 for 5 as the DH and raised his league-leading average to .366. … Palmer will be going back to the bullpen for a while. The Angels won’t need a fifth starter again until Aug. 8.