Angels 2, Rangers 1

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—The AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels began the second half of their season the same way they started the first half—with a victory over the Texas Rangers.

Casey Kotchman ended a 3-for-43 drought with an RBI single in the ninth inning to give the Angels a 2-1 victory on Friday night and increase their lead to three games over Seattle.

“When you’re in a pennant race, you need as many wins as you can get,” Kotchman said. “It’s a big lift for the team to get a W in a tight ballgame.”

Gary Matthews Jr., the former Ranger who signed a five-year, $50 million contract with the Angels in November, legged out a double to left-center that skipped past shortstop Michael Young. Ron Mahay relieved Joaquin Benoit (3-3), and Matthews advanced on Garret Anderson’s groundout. Kotchman then grounded a 3-2 pitch through the right side to end it—after getting the green light on 3-0.

“I left a couple of runners on throughout the game, but Garret made the situation a heck of a lot easier by getting the guy to third base,” Kotchman said. “He’s got to be the best in the business at moving the runners. I mean, the guy’s got over 2,000 hits—and he’s moving the runners. That’s impressive for us, to watch him play like that.”

Francisco Rodriguez (3-2), fresh off a save in Tuesday’s All-Star game, pitched a hitless ninth for the win.

Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira, activated from the disabled list after missing five weeks with a strained right quadriceps muscle, went 1-for-3 with a ground-rule double.

Kenny Lofton doubled with one out in the Texas eighth and advanced on Young’s groundout. Kelvim Escobar intentionally walked the switch-hitting Teixeira with Rangers RBI leader Sammy Sosa on deck, only the 14th free pass this season for the Rangers—the fewest in the majors. But Sosa flied out on a 2-0 pitch.

“It’s really kind of pick your poison,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Teixeira had a couple of good looks off of Kelvim his last couple of at-bats and hit the ball hard. Sammy’s not going to be an easy out, but I thought that Kelvim had maybe a couple more things he could try to do against Sammy.

“Maybe the margin of error was not going to be as tight against Sammy because, if you make a mistake to Sammy, he’s going to kill it. The pitch was a hanging slider, but he popped it up.”

The Angels didn’t get their first hit against Kevin Millwood until Orlando Cabrera singled with one out in the fourth. Vladimir Guerrero, who came in with a .423 career average against the Rangers, followed with a single off Millwood’s right leg and Matthews drove the next pitch to right field for an RBI single that opened the scoring.

Gerald Laird led off the Rangers’ fifth with a double to center and got to second easily despite stumbling and falling as he rounded first. Jerry Hairston advanced Laird with the Rangers’ AL-leading 31st sacrifice bunt, and No. 9 hitter Ramon Vazquez drove him in with a single that tied the score.

Vazquez was doubled off second base to end the fifth after Guerrero charged Young’s sinking liner and caught it at his shoetops. But the Rangers’ third baseman made up for his baserunning mistake in the sixth, robbing Anderson of a tiebreaking RBI single with a diving backhanded stop toward the line and running to the bag for the force on Guerrero.

“It seems like everybody we’ve thrown out there lately has made good plays on the defensive end,” Millwood said. “No matter how good your pitching, you need your defense behind you because that’s going to make you better.”

Escobar pitched eight innings, allowing a run and six hits while striking out six. The right-hander has pitched at least seven innings in 11 of his last 14 starts, and has allowed fewer than three runs in nine of those 11 games.

“I feel good that I’m able to go out there and pitch consistently,” Escobar said. “We played great defense tonight, and that was a key for me to stay in there a little longer. I had good command on my fastball and I had a good breaking ball. It’s been a long time since I’ve thrown the breaking ball over for strikes.”

Millwood allowed a run and five hits over seven innings in his 300th career start. He struck out seven and walked three. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.23 ERA in his last six starts after going 0-5 with a 10.05 ERA in his previous seven.

“My mechanics are better and I just haven’t been making as many mistakes,” Millwood said. “At that point, it was big just to have one good outing and be able to build on that. And that’s kind of what I’ve done.”


After the game, the Angels placed 2B Howie Kendrick on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 8, because of a non-displaced fracture in his left index finger. … Angels 3B Chone Figgins was 0-for-3 against Millwood, and is hitless in 17 career at-bats against him.

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