Russell Branyan made his most significant contribution to the Los Angeles Angels, a club that’s provided him very few chances to come through in the clutch.
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Branyan hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the seventh inning, Ervin Santana pitched into the eighth for his first victory in over a month, and the Los Angeles Angels beat the Dodgers 3-1 on Sunday in the finale of the six-game Freeway Series.
”I didn’t really know what to expect, as far as playing time. All I knew was that I’d just gotten released by the Diamondbacks and the Angels wanted me to come play for them,” said Branyan, who joined his 10th team over 14 big league seasons in May. ”In the situation I’m in now, I’m in a role where I get a start a week and come off the bench to try to help the ballclub.”
Branyan is batting .186 (8 for 43) with four RBIs in 20 games for the Angels. He has 191 career homers, including 31 for Seattle in 2009.
”I’ve only hit two homers this year, so it’s not like I’m tearing the cover off the ball. But it felt good,” he said. ”I got a pitch that I could drive and I did what I’m capable of doing with it. I got a chance to be up there in an important situation and come through. I want to produce. And to hit a go-ahead homer feels really good.”
Chad Billingsley (7-7) gave up three runs and three hits in eight innings for the Dodgers. The right-hander took a one-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the seventh before Bobby Abreu led off with a ground-rule double into the right-field corner, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Vernon Wells’ grounder to second.
Billingsley then grazed Howie Kendrick with a 1-2 pitch and retired Alberto Callaspo for the second out before Branyan drove a 3-2 pitch deep into the seats in right-center.
”I probably shouldn’t have thrown that pitch – I know I shouldn’t have thrown that pitch,” Billingsley said. ”He did what he’s supposed to. It was one of those days.”
Santana (4-8) allowed a run and six hits, struck out seven and walked one. The right-hander, who was 0-4 with a 4.31 ERA in six starts since beating Oakland 4-1 on May 25, was lifted after giving up a two-out double by James Loney – his third hit of the game.
”He’s pitched really well every time he’s been out there and we haven’t really gotten him much run support,” Kendrick said. ”But today Russell stepped up huge and Ervin kept us in the game again.”
Scott Downs got the last out of the eighth and rookie Jordan Walden pitched a perfect ninth for his 19th save in 25 chances.
”It was huge. We hung in there and Ervin threw a helluva game,” center fielder Peter Bourjos said. ”He put us in the position to win.”
Before the game, the Dodgers reinstated two-time All-Star shortstop Rafael Furcal from the disabled list before and placed third baseman Casey Blake on the 15-day DL for the third time this season because of a neck strain. Furcal handled seven chances flawlessly and scored on Loney’s two-out double in the sixth.
Angels rookie catcher Hank Conger was charged with a strange error in the third inning. Tony Gwynn Jr. swung at strike three in the dirt, and Conger appeared to tag him on the backside as he broke for first base. Conger then cocked his arm to throw the ball around the infield, thinking plate umpire Dan Iassogna called Gwynn out. By the time he realized the play was still live, Gwynn had made it to first safely.
”Hank was a little confused because he was hearing `Yes, Yes,’ thinking that the umpire was calling the tag,” manager Mike Scioscia said. ”But you just have to have that field presence to realize that, `Hey, the umpire isn’t calling an out.”’
Santana retired his next nine batters before Furcal led off the sixth with a single. He stole second and came home on Loney’s drive toward right-center that broke off Bourjos’ glove as he made a diving attempt for the ball. The double ended an 0-for-22 drought for the Dodgers with runners in scoring position.
”I thought I lost it when I dove for it,” Bourjos said. ”I looked right into the lights when that happened, so I’m just glad I was able to knock it down.”
The Dodgers loaded the bases later that inning on a walk and a throwing error by Santana on Trent Oeltjen’s comebacker. But A.J. Ellis grounded out to Furcal. The Dodgers also threatened in the second, but Santana struck out Ellis and Jamey Carroll with runners at second and third.
Notes: The Angels won four of the six meetings, and there were no sellouts. They are 50-36 against the Dodgers since interleague play was instituted in 1997. … Dodgers CF Matt Kemp was voted in by the fans to start the All-Star game. It’s the first time the Dodgers will have an outfielder in the starting lineup two years in a row since 1974 and 1975, when Jimmy Wynn started both games in CF. Andre Ethier started last year’s All-Star game at Angel Stadium in CF, instead of his regular RF spot. … Kendrick, teammate Jered Weaver and Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw also were selected as All-Stars. … Scioscia’s 132nd interleague victory broke Joe Torre’s record. … The run scored by Abreu was his 1,390th, tying Joe DiMaggio for 90th place on the career list.