More than 90 feet after the game ended, Erick Aybar was still sprinting around second base with his arms flapping. Running away from some celebrating teammates and toward another pack, he looked like a striker who had just scored a World Cup-winning goal.
His Los Angeles Angels have been putting soccer-style numbers on the scoreboard all too often lately, yet they’re still finding ways to stay on top of the AL West.
Aybar’s two-out single drove home Bobby Abreu in the 10th inning, and the Angels overcame All-Star closer Brian Fuentes‘ latest blown save for a 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.
Mike Sweeney led off the ninth with a solo homer to center off Fuentes, erasing an outstanding home debut by Scott Kazmir. The Angels‘ new left-hander left with a 2-1 lead after battling Seattle ace Felix Hernandez through the first seven innings, but he has received meager run support from one of the majors’ top offenses.
“I’m just glad we got the win tonight, no matter who got it,” said Kazmir, who has allowed just six hits in his two starts since arriving in a trade with Tampa Bay last month. “That doesn’t matter to me right now. I’m just trying to go out there and put up as many zeros as I can and go as deep as I can.”
The Angels have scored more than three runs just once in seven games in September, yet they’ve won four of their last five. They still lead the majors in average with runners in scoring position, yet they went 1 for 12 Tuesday, adding to their precipitous slump in that category in recent weeks – yet that one hit came at an ideal moment.
Abreu led off the 10th with a single off Miguel Batista (6-4). After Abreu reached third base on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout, the Mariners intentionally walked Kendry Morales to pitch to Aybar, who drilled a grounder up the middle for his first hit of the night.
“If you look at Erick, he’s grown as a player,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s not intimidated by any situation out there, whether it’s offense or defense. He’s just going to think about making plays and not mistakes.”
Aybar’s winner limited the damage done to Los Angeles’ division lead by Texas’ doubleheader sweep of Cleveland. Los Angeles leads the Rangers by 4 1/2 games, with seven games still to play against each other.
Matt Palmer (10-1) pitched the 10th inning for the Angels, reaching double-digit victories in his first full major league season.
After Kazmir and reliever Kevin Jepsen limited the Mariners to three hits in the first eight innings, Sweeney immediately connected for his seventh homer against Fuentes, who then walked two Mariners before leaving to a cascade of boos. Jason Bulger killed the rally by retiring pinch-hitters Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Carp.
“It seems like whenever one of us doesn’t get it done on any given night, there’s always someone there to step up and pick each other up,” outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. said. “Tito (Fuentes) has more than carried his load this year. If he happens to have a tough night, it’s great to be able to pick him up, but those nights are few and far between for him.”
Fuentes is tied for the AL lead with 39 saves, yet his sixth blown save denied a win to Kazmir, who yielded three hits over seven innings and won his rematch with Hernandez.
Seattle’s All-Star right-hander also allowed three hits in seven innings, but the Angels capitalized on each of his four walks, with Chone Figgins scoring an unearned, go-ahead run on Jack Wilson‘s error in the fifth.
“I knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,” Matthews said. “Kaz is throwing the ball extremely well for us, and so has Hernandez. We were just in the back there, talking about how many wins (Hernandez) would have if he played for us. I mean, can you imagine?”
Kazmir made an outstanding debut for the Angels last week in Seattle, pitching 6 1-3 innings of three-hit ball and retiring 18 straight at one point in a 3-0 loss to Hernandez, who yielded four hits over eight innings.
“It was another good game between Kazmir and me,” Hernandez said. “Today I didn’t have my great command. I didn’t have my best stuff. (The three-walk third inning) was unbelievable. I think in my whole career, that was the worst.”
Franklin Gutierrez hit a first-inning homer for the Mariners, who have lost three straight.
“We lost a tough game, and time is running out,” Sweeney said as the Mariners dropped 11 games behind Los Angeles and 8 1/2 behind Boston in the wild card race. “We’re in September, and we can’t be losing many more games if we want to be playing ball in October.”
Ichiro Suzuki went 0 for 5, snapping his seven-game hitting streak and leaving him five hits short of 200 for the ninth consecutive season. … The Mariners hope 1B Russell Branyan will resume working out when the club returns to Seattle next week. Branyan went on the disabled list late last month with a back injury.