Angels 2, Indians 1

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CLEVELAND (AP)—After making a no-look, behind-the-back, game-saving flip to home plate, catcher Bengie Molina sprinted to the Angels dugout and straight to a TV.

“I went downstairs to watch it,” Molina said. “I had to.”

Molina and reliever Francisco Rodriguez combined on one of the season’s prettiest defensive plays Sunday night as Anaheim moved a little closer to Oakland in the AL West with a 2-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

John Lackey (12-11) gave up just two hits in 7 1-3 innings as the Angels completed a three-game sweep and pulled within three games of the first-place Athletics.

But it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the Molina-to-Rodriguez putout, a play that if it happened on a chilly night in October it would be remembered for generations.

As it is, this one was pretty special.

“That play,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, “was flat out unbelievable.”

With the Angels protecting a 2-1 lead, pinch-hitter Ronnie Belliard hit a double leading off the eighth and moved to third on a groundout. Scioscia then pulled Lackey for Rodriguez, and the AL’s best setup man struck out Omar Vizquel with three nasty sliders.

Rodriguez got ahead of Travis Hafner before bouncing a pitch in the dirt that rolled 10 feet to Molina’s left. The two-time Gold Glove winning catcher quickly pounced on it, and without looking, swept the ball backhanded to Rodriguez, who straddled home and applied the tag on Belliard, who never touched the plate.

“Instincts,” Rodriguez said.

“By far, that’s the best play we’ve ever made.”

The Angels actually work on a similar play during spring training, but they never practice it by making blind throws from a catcher sprawling across the grass.

“We do it sometimes joking around,” Molina said. “This was no joke.”

Belliard thought he could score when he saw the ball skittering away from Molina.

“I was just going hard,” Belliard said. “He made a perfect throw. They just made a great play.”

As Belliard dusted himself off, Molina and Rodriguez danced their way toward the dugout as many of the Angels spilled out to greet them with high-fives.

Lackey was one of the first in the receiving line.

“It’s got to be one of the best plays I’ve seen,” he said.

Rodriguez also worked a perfect ninth for his 11th save.

Troy Glaus homered off Indians starter Jake Westbrook (12-7) for Anaheim, which has won 15 of 20 and is 17-4 in its last 21 road games.

The Indians, who were within one game of first in the AL Central three weeks ago, have lost five in a row, 16 of 20 and are 11 games back.

For 5 2-3 innings, Lackey dominated the Indians, who just a few nights earlier beat the New York Yankees 22-0—the worst loss in 101 years for baseball’s winningest franchise.

Cleveland didn’t get its first hit until Hafner doubled to right-center with two outs in the sixth. Victor Martinez followed with a hard grounder that second baseman Adam Kennedy let slip past him for an error, allowing Hafner to score.

But Lackey, whose previous best outing was a four-hitter against Texas last season, preserved his 2-1 lead by striking out Ben Broussard to end the inning.

Westbrook allowed just two runs and seven hits in eight innings, but lost for the first time in 11 starts at Jacobs Field this season. The right-hander had been 7-0 at home.

Glaus, who irritated his surgically repaired right shoulder when he tumbled over first base on Saturday, gave the Angels a 1-0 lead in the fifth.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder muscled an 0-1 pitch from Westbrook over the wall in center field for his 13th homer and second since returning after missing seven weeks following his operation.

The Angels added another run in the inning when Jeff DaVanon walked, stole second, advanced on a groundout and scored on a double by Chone Figgins.

Notes

The Angels are still awaiting test results on OF Jose Guillen’s swollen right wrist. Guillen was sent home Saturday to see what’s wrong with his wrist, that has been sore for two weeks. … Cleveland fans cheered during a nightly “headlines” segment on the video scoreboard that said: “Packers Release Quarterback Tim Couch.” Couch was the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Browns in 1999. … Belliard has 46 doubles, the most for a Cleveland player since Albert Belle’s 52 in 1995.

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