Ken Aspromonte doesn’t generate much buzz among Angels fans anymore. He played second base for the franchise during its inaugural season in 1961, as part of an infield that also included Steve Bilko, Gene Leek and Fritz Brickell.
Those Angels lost five of their first six games and went on to finish 38 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees in the American League.
Hideki Matsui and Jered Weaver made sure that team kept its designation as having assembled the worst six-game start in franchise history.
Weaver pitched six superb innings and Matsui drove in the go-ahead run with a walk-off single in the ninth inning Saturday night at Angel Stadium to propel the Angels to a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Matsui smoked a 2-and-0 pitch from reliever Craig Breslow into the right-field corner, scoring Bobby Abreu from second base and setting off a wild celebration in the infield after the Angels (2-4) ended a four-game losing streak.
“I told you in spring training, [he’s] the quiet assassin,” center field Torii Hunter said of Matsui, who had three hits and drove in two runs. “The quietest clutch hitter in the game.”
The heroics became necessary after the Athletics had scored a pair of late runs against the Angels’ bullpen to forge a 3-3 tie. Abreu started the Angels’ rally with a one-out double to right before Breslow intentionally walked Hunter to bring up Matsui, who took the first two pitches for balls.
“I was just waiting for a pitch that I could put a hard swing on,” Matsui said through an interpreter. “Fortunately, the count was to my favor and I got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it.”
In a command performance that his team desperately needed, Weaver gave up four hits and one run to help the Angels stir reminders of the team that has won three consecutive AL West titles.
Not that there weren’t a few annoyances. Relievers Kevin Jepsen and Scot Shields failed to protect a 3-1 lead, with Jepsen giving up one run in the seventh and Shields giving up another in the eighth.
The breakthrough victory wasn’t preceded by any players-only meetings or tongue-lashings by Mike Scioscia, though the manager might have purposefully delivered a message through the media Friday when he said his team “could have played a triple-A team these last couple of nights and lost.”
A day later, Scioscia said he sensed “a little different feel” in the clubhouse before the game.
“It wasn’t any earth-shattering movement or anything like that,” he said, “but the guys took the field with a presence today that helped guys just to concentrate on baseball.”
Weaver certainly appeared locked in during a performance in which he struck out seven, issued only one walk and gave up a run on Kevin Kouzmanoff’s fourth-inning homer.
And Matsui looked plenty relaxed during his ninth-inning at-bat. He is batting .417 in his first week as an Angel, with four of his nine hits going for extra bases.
“We’ve seen that guy in pinstripes and we know what he’s all about,” Weaver said. “You get him up there with [one out] and a guy on second, he’s going to figure out how to get that run in. So it’s nice to see him in red.”