Slated as the fourth starter in this stacked Angels rotation and nearly ignored in the offseason news by the simultaneous arrival of Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson finally had his day in the sun.
There was cold and wind, too, and he shined like he was in midsummer form.
Wilson won his awaited Angels debut with seven smooth innings, giving Los Angeles all the boost it needed to beat the Twins 5-1 on Monday and spoil Minnesota’s home opener.
Wilson (1-0) allowed three hits while striking out five, giving up only one fly ball, a home run by Josh Willingham off his work-in-progress changeup. Wilson was predictably nonchalant about his spotlight performance.
”We have a long way to go. We just have to concentrate on playing the best baseball we can. It doesn’t really have anything to do with who’s hitting the home run or who’s getting the win,” he said.
Wilson, who struck out Joe Mauer twice, had a 2-0 lead before he even touched the mound, after Torii Hunter’s single and Bobby Abreu’s double drove in first-inning runs against Nick Blackburn. Albert Pujols didn’t get a ball out of the infield in four at-bats, but he reached on a fielder’s choice, hustled from first to third on a single to center and scored the Angels’ first run.
”They play the game at a fast pace, and it’s good to see and it’s the way we have to go about doing it,” manager Mike Scioscia said.
Erick Aybar played exceptional defense at shortstop, drew a walk to start the game and broke up a double play with a takeout slide to keep the first inning alive and later dropped down a textbook squeeze bunt to stretch the lead in the seventh.
”That’s how you win the game. Just do the little things,” Aybar said.
Blackburn (0-1) was charged with five runs over six innings, but he recorded 15 straight outs in one stretch and surrendered just five hits, a decent first start after two straight rough seasons. His demise was the leadoff walks in the first and seventh innings. Shortstop Jamey Carroll could’ve started a double play to wipe out Abreu’s walk in the seventh, but the ball skipped off his glove for an infield single. Chris Iannetta’s two-run double came next, breaking the game open and finishing Blackburn’s afternoon.
”Should’ve made it. It ended up being a big play,” Carroll said.
Wilson, who went 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA over the last two years, signed for five years and more than $77 million. On a 45-degree day, he looked as comfortable as if he were in his Southern California home.
”Both teams have to deal with it, so you just go out there and try to make adjustments however you can: lick your fingers, blow on your hand a little bit or use a little more rosin,” Wilson said.
He walked four — the only ”fly in the ointment,” Scioscia said — but control has never been his strong suit. Carroll drew a two-out walk in the third and Mauer followed with a sharp single, but Justin Morneau ended the inning with a weak tap back to the mound. Carroll followed a fifth-inning walk with a double-play grounder.
”You saw the umpire get hit a few times on swings and misses. That’s how much his ball was moving,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ”The guy was a closer, and that’s what he does out there. He takes a closer’s mentality for seven or eight innings out there.”
Notes: Peter Bourjos played CF for the Angels instead of Vernon Wells, who is 2 for 14 coming off a career-worst .218 batting average last year. Scioscia said he’s already concerned about Wells pressing too hard to improve upon his frustrating 2011 season. … Hunter and RH LaTroy Hawkins threw ceremonial first pitches, a rarity for visiting players. They joined several of their former teammates from the 2002 Twins to mark the 10-year anniversary of the team’s division title after the franchise was nearly eliminated that offseason. ”All those guys on the team were like family,” Hunter said. … Mauer, who is 1 for 14 this season, played 1B and was charged with an error for bobbling a grounder in the sixth. … After the off day Tuesday, Angels All-Star Jered Weaver, who struck out 10 over eight scoreless innings to win their opener, will take the mound Wednesday against the Twins’ Carl Pavano (0-1). … Pujols is 3 for 14 through four games, with one run batted in. … The Twins last started 0-4 in 1969. They haven’t held a lead yet and have been outscored 20-6.