Howie Kendrick‘s grounder slipped through the infield like a pinball flicked by a wizard. The ball somehow eluded Joe Nathan on the mound before ricocheting off second base, preventing the Twins from making any play that could stop Los Angeles’ game-tying rally.
Such improbable bounces seem downright likely these days for the Angels, who keep coming up with crazy new ways to add to their collection of comeback wins.
Kendrick’s seeing-eye single capped a two-out, two-run rally in the ninth against Minnesota’s All-Star closer, and Mike Napoli‘s run-scoring double in the 10th ended the Angels‘ 31st come-from-behind victory, 6-5 on Thursday night.
Los Angeles, which leads the majors in comeback wins, won its sixth straight game by denting the stalwart Nathan, an All-Star closer who had converted 20 straight save chances and hadn’t even allowed a run since May 15.
Napoli ripped a long drive to the wall in right-center off Jesse Crain (2-4) in the 10th, setting off an infield celebration for a club that’s getting used to this particular dance.
“To do it to someone like (Nathan) is pretty unbelievable,” said Napoli, who was hit by a pitch from Nathan before scoring the tying run. “He’s always lights-out, and he gets the job done. He’s been doing it for a long time, so this doesn’t happen often.”
Yet such theatrics are happening with remarkable regularity for the Angels. Los Angeles has won 10 of 11 since the weekend before the All-Star break, increasing its lead in the AL West over Texas to 3 1/2 games despite playing without injured sluggers Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera.
“That’ll keep you in the race, I’ll tell you that,” said Chone Figgins, who had three hits and scored the winning run. “We’re just showing what type of team we have, battling back against one of the best closers in the game. He’s not going to make a mistake. … A guy that has a 1.18 (ERA), that doesn’t happen at all.”
Brian Fuentes (1-2) pitched the 10th inning in the opener of a seven-game homestand for the Angels, who have made comebacks in 10 of their last 13 victories – although few were more unlikely than this one. Nathan, who had made 24 straight scoreless appearances, has blown just three saves all season.
Jason Kubel homered and drove in three runs for the Twins, who rebounded from a 16-1 thrashing in Oakland one night earlier, but still lost for the fifth time in seven games. Joe Mauer had three hits and two RBIs for the Twins, who seemed ticketed for a hard-fought win after stranding 13 runners in the first nine innings.
“We’re in one of those stretches where you have to keep battling,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You’ve got to work your way out of it. No one is going to give you anything. No one is going to feel sorry for you in this game. If they start feeling sorry for themselves, shame on them. I don’t feel sorry for myself as the manager of this team. You have to keep playing.”
Minnesota went up 3-0 before most fans had settled in their seats, with Mauer hitting an RBI double before scoring on Kubel’s 17th homer. Angels starter Jered Weaver didn’t allow another hit until the sixth, when Kubel again drove home Mauer with a single.
The Angels‘ small-ball skills eventually wore out Minnesota starter Scott Baker, but didn’t result in a tying run. Baker stranded seven runners in the final three frames of his five-inning start, yielding six hits and three walks.
Weaver pitched into the eighth inning, getting back into form after making his shortest start of the season in Oakland last weekend. He gave up six hits and four runs, striking out five.
“I never doubted that these guys were going to come back and put some hits together to score some runs and win that game,” Weaver said. “And for them to get those two runs off one of the best closers in the league was pretty special.”
NOTES: Angels 1B Kendry Morales went 0 for 5 with a sacrifice fly, snapping his hitting streak at a career-best 20 games. … New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez, the former USC star who grew up in Orange County, threw out the ceremonial first pitch wearing a No. 6 Angels jersey. His toss wasn’t even close to a strike. … The Angels unveiled the logo for next season’s All-Star game, to be held July 13, 2010 at Angel Stadium. … The Twins swept a three-game series from the Angels in Minneapolis in April.