Angels 10, Pirates 1

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—After consecutive starts in which his teammates have totaled 20 runs of support, Kelvim Escobar is starting to feel that his hard-luck days with the Los Angeles Angels are over.

Escobar breezed to his ninth victory and Vladimir Guerrero punctuated a 17-hit attack with a two-run homer, helping the Angels rout the Pittsburgh Pirates 10-1 Saturday night. The victory came six days after the right-hander beat the Dodgers 10-4.

“Everybody knows how tough it was for me last year, pitching well and not getting good results. But it seems like everything is starting to turn around and I’m very happy,” Escobar said. “I’ve always said, when you work hard, it’s going to pay off someday. You just have to be patient and wait for your time.”

The Angels, vying for their third AL West title in four years, are off to the best start in franchise history at 48-27 and are 21 games over .500 for the first time since finishing 95-67 in 2005. They increased their division lead to a season-high eight games over Oakland, which lost 1-0 to the New York Mets.

“I’m very happy about the way the offense is going,” Escobar said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence. And one of the things that we’re doing that is going to keep us on top and competing for that division is winning series.”

By taking the first two games of this three-game set, the Halos have won nine consecutive series and 13 of the last 14. But they lost center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. in the third inning with tightness in his left hamstring after he legged out an infield single to short.

Matthews, who signed a five-year, $50 million contract with the Angels in November after leaving the Texas Rangers for free agency, is hitting .286 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs in 73 games.

“Just running down the line, it felt a little tight—but it didn’t pull or grab or anything,” Matthews said. “They yanked me, but I could have finished it out. It feels OK right now. I want to go out and play tomorrow.”

Escobar (9-3) sent the Pirates to their fourth straight loss, allowing a run and five hits over eight innings and striking out four. The right-hander, who became a full-time starter in 2004 after joining the Angels from Toronto as a free agent, is only two wins shy of last season’s total.

“I’m very happy the way things are going,” said Escobar, who turned Chris Duffy’s line drive back to the box into an inning-ending double play in the eighth. “It’s always been a goal for me to win 20 games and I know that I can do it, but it doesn’t come easy.”

Ian Snell (6-5) gave up five runs and 10 hits over six innings in his first career appearance against the Angels, making the right-hander 0-3 with a 4.05 ERA in his last six road starts.

Snell pitched for the first time in 10 days since recording his first complete game in the majors with an 8-1 victory over Texas. He missed his scheduled turn last Tuesday at Seattle because of a blister on his index finger, which he burned while cleaning his stove.

Howie Kendrick triggered the Angels’ five-run second inning with a two-run bloop single to center and Shea Hillenbrand drove in another with a fielder’s choice grounder. Reggie Willits and Chone Figgins capped the rally with RBI singles, but Snell couldn’t exhale until Guerrero’s bid for a three-run homer died in Bay’s glove on the warning track.

“Obviously, it’s not the performance Ian Snell wanted,” manager Jim Tracy said. “But for him to maintain his composure in the manner in which he did after that tough second inning and basically save our bullpen, you’ve got to give him credit for that.”

Hillenbrand drove in another run with an infield single in the seventh and Guerrero highlighted a four-run eighth with his 14th homer, a two-run shot against Tony Armas.

Xavier Nady doubled in the seventh, extending Pittsburgh’s streak to 30 consecutive games with an extra-base hit, and Ronny Paulino singled him home for his second hit of the game. It was the 21st time this season that the Pirates scored fewer than three runs, and they have lost all 21.

“That’s not very good,” shortstop Jack Wilson said. “We’re running into some guys that are throwing really well right now. Escobar had some really filthy stuff tonight. That team is very good at what they do—taking the extra base and getting the clutch hits. We’re definitely not doing that right now, and it’s definitely a tough thing to take.”

Notes

Angels 1B Casey Kotchman missed his sixth straight game because of a concussion. … Snell didn’t have to bat because the DH rule was in effect. He has nine sacrifice bunts, tying Roy Oswalt for the major league lead—but six of the baserunners Snell has advanced have been stranded.

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