ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Fernando Rodney made a triumphant return to the Angel Stadium mound with perhaps his most satisfying save of the season.
Rodney pitched a perfect ninth inning to preserve Matt Moore’s 3-0 victory over C.J. Wilson and the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night. And back in the clubhouse, the reliever was all smiles through that sinister-looking goatee of his.
“I was happy to close the game in this place and show that team that I’m a different pitcher than I was the last couple of years when I was here,” said Rodney, who had a career-high 37 saves in 2009 with Detroit. “I couldn’t find my spot here when I tried to close. I don’t know what the reason is, but this year is different and I have a lot of confidence.
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“When I came to Tampa, they told me to pitch like I did in the past and don’t worry about anything. They gave me the opportunity to close, so I just wanted to keep my head up and keep working.”
Rodney has converted 29 of 30 save attempts this season with a 0.79 ERA in 46 appearances. The 10-year veteran, who struggled quite a bit during two seasons with the Angels before signing a one-year, $2 million contract with Tampa Bay in January, pitched at the “Big A” for the first time since Sept. 2, 2011, when he failed to retire any of his five batters and allowed four runs against Minnesota.
“I know Fernando had a tough time here last year, but I don’t want our guys to live in the past,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Our GM and our scouting department loved him, and he was one of the guys we really wanted this offseason because we thought he’d have a really good year. Then we broke down the under-the-hood kind of stuff that we thought he needed to be better with. And he has.
“He got the opportunity because Kyle Farnsworth had been hurt, and he just jumped right in,” Maddon added. “I like his strike-throwing ability, his 99 mph fastball, his Bugs Bunny changeup and his relaxed, calm approach to the whole thing. That’s what we’ve been seeing all year.”
Ben Zobrist had a home run and a sacrifice fly in support of Moore (7-7), who is 6-2 with a 3.32 ERA in his last 10 starts. The 23-year-old lefty pitched a career-high eight innings in his previous outing and retired his final 17 batters in a 2-1 loss to Seattle last Sunday.
Moore barely escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth after No. 9 hitter Bobby Wilson doubled with one out and Mike Trout reached on a fielding error by third baseman Ryan Roberts — ending Tampa Bay’s season-best six-game errorless streak. A walk to Torii Hunter loaded the bases for Albert Pujols, who popped out.
“I don’t like to have the bases loaded with Pujols up. But I didn’t pitch around Torii at all because he’s a dangerous hitter, too,” Moore said. “That’s a very tough lineup with a lot of good hitters. So to find myself in only two jams tonight, I consider that a very good win for sure,” Moore said. “I was fortunate to be able to get ahead of some guys early and let my other pitches work.”
Moore then made a 1-0 pitch to Mark Trumbo that broke off the glove of former Angels catcher Jose Molina, who hustled after it and threw to Moore for a sweep tag on Wilson as he slid in headfirst. TV replays showed that Moore’s glove dusted the plate and missed Moore, leading to a brief argument from manager Mike Scioscia.
“That was an incredible play,” Maddon said. “If you’ve ever watched Jose, he’s got that real loose arm when he throws the ball back to the pitcher, and it’s almost like a softball toss. And without being able to do that, you don’t make that play. With that loose arm, he was able to throw the ball right on the money. And Matty did his job, putting the tag on him.”
The Angels also mounted a threat in the fourth after Moore hit Pujols with a 1-2 pitch and Trumbo singled. But Howie Kendrick struck out, Alberto Callaspo lined out to left field and Vernon Wells hit a grounder to third. Wells played his first game since May 20, when he tore a ligament in his right thumb while stealing second base at San Diego and had to undergo surgery.
Wilson (9-7) threw 121 pitches in 6 2-3 innings, allowing three runs — two earned — and four hits. He struck out seven and walked three. The All-Star lefty is 0-3 with a 4.23 ERA over his last six starts after going 5-0 with a 1.30 ERA in his previous seven. It was Wilson’s fourth start since blister problems prevented him from pitching in the All-Star game.
“I think early on, his command wasn’t quite as crisp and his ball-to-strike ratio wasn’t good,” Scioscia said. “But as the game went on, he got better and really made some great pitches and pitched deep into the game.”
The Angels squandered a chance to reduce Texas’ four-game lead over them in the AL West race and fell into third place — a half-game behind the surging Oakland Athletics, who have won 18 of 21. Zack Greinke, acquired by Los Angeles in a trade with Milwaukee on Friday, will make his debut with his new club in Sunday’s series finale against Jeremy Hellickson.
NOTES: Angels C Chris Iannetta, sidelined since May 9 because of a broken right wrist, was reinstated from the disabled list. C John Hester and LHP Hisanori Takahashi were optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake. … The Rays’ 77 errors already have eclipsed last season’s total by four. … Tampa Bay lost 13 of its first 14 games at Anaheim after Maddon left his job as Scioscia’s bench coach to become Rays manager. Since then, they have won eight of 11 at the “Big A.”