Take away a near-collapse by the bullpen and this was exactly what the Los Angeles Angels wanted to see in their season opener.
Torii Hunter and Jeff Mathis homered, Jered Weaver pitched two-hit ball into the seventh inning and the Angels beat the Kansas City Royals 4-2 on Thursday.
”I just tried to keep people off the basepaths as much as possible,” Weaver said. ”It’s obviously nerve-racking the first time out.”
Weaver allowed only two harmless singles by Melky Cabrera before he was replaced by Hisanori Takahashi with one out in the seventh. The 2010 major-league strikeout leader, who improved to 3-0 in his last four starts against Kansas City, fanned six and walked two as the Angels won their opener for the seventh time in the last eight years.
Hunter and Mathis, on his 28th birthday, hit solo shots off Luke Hochevar, who pitched 5 2-3 innings and gave up four runs in his first opening-day start.
Once Weaver was out of the game, the Royals made it interesting on solo shots by Mike Aviles and Jeff Francoeur, but Los Angeles’ bullpen escaped threats in the eighth and ninth.
”Weaver is as good a pitcher I’ve seen at being able to disrupt hitters’ timing,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. ”That’s what pitching is all about, trying to keep the opposition off balance and he does it as well as anybody. He has a changeup, got different speeds on his slider and throws his fastball at different speeds and he bangs strikes.”
Aviles’ leadoff drive off Kevin Jepsen trimmed Los Angeles’ lead to 4-2 in the eighth. The Royals went on to load the bases on three walks, but Michael Kohn, the Angels’ fifth pitcher, struck out Francoeur and retired Alcides Escobar on a fly ball to end the inning.
With runners at the corners and two out in the ninth, Alex Gordon barely missed a home run before Fernando Rodney struck him out for the save. Gordon was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and left five runners.
”We were fortunate at the end. Too many base on balls,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ”When we needed to make a pitch, our guys did. But you can’t just keep cracking open the door. They’re an aggressive team and they’ve got guys who can drive the ball out of the park.”
Weaver (1-0) had faced the minimum until Cabrera flared a single into left with one out in the fourth. The right-hander, the Angels’ pitcher of the year the past two seasons, then retired six of the next seven, allowing only one walk, before Cabrera singled up the middle with two out in the sixth.
Hunter, on a 3-2 pitch, cranked a 446-foot shot over the center-field fence leading off the fourth. It was his 27th homer against the Royals, the most he’s hit off any club. Vernon Wells and Erick Aybar followed with back-to-back doubles.
Hunter also singled in the fifth but a piece of his bat went into the stands on the third-base side and hit a woman. She appeared to be bleeding and Hunter sent somebody to give her a souvenir bat.
”I hope and pray that she’s all right,” Hunter said.
She is. Stadium security said the woman was treated at the scene and insisted on remaining at the game. She did, however, asked to be seated somewhere out of the way of flying bats.
The Royals committed three errors. After Mathis connected in the sixth, Peter Bourjos bunted and wound up at third on throwing errors by Hochevar and second baseman Chris Getz. Maicer Izturis ended up driving him in with a single.
”I think this is like my 13th opening day,” Hunter said. ”Thirteen of them and I’m still kind of nervous and anxious to see what happens. But it’s cool to come with a win.”
Takahashi allowed Francoeur’s two-out drive in the seventh.
Third baseman Aviles was booed when he ran toward the left-field dugout chasing a high pop off the bat of Bobby Abreu but let it fall in. It was called a no-play, but boos echoed again when Abreu then singled with two out in the fifth. But Aviles made a nice play on Wells’ grounder to end the inning.
Hochevar (0-1) also allowed nine hits, struck out five and walked none. One of the runs on his line was unearned.
NOTES: Royals relievers have switched sides. Since Kauffman Stadium opened in 1973, the home team bullpen had always been behind right field, the visitors’ behind left. But now they’ve switched, giving KC dugout a better view of what’s happening in their pen. … Mike Sweeney, who signed a one-day contract this month and retired as a Royal, threw out the first pitch. … The Royals called it a sellout but there were quite a few unoccupied seats scattered around Kauffman Stadium. … The Angels improved to 1-3 in March games.