Lackey and Rodriguez pitch Angels to 2-1 victory over Devil Rays

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—The way things are shaping up for the Los Angeles Angels, they could clinch the AL West title before the week is out with their closest pursuers in the other dugout.

John Lackey took a four-hit shutout into the ninth inning and the Angels beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2-1 on Tuesday night, inching closer to their third AL West title in four seasons.

The Angels remained 8 1/2 games ahead of second-place Seattle with 11 to play, but reduced their magic number to four. After wrapping up this three-game set, they host the Mariners in a four-game weekend series with a scheduled rotation of Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Kelvim Escobar and Lackey.

“You’d like to get it done as quick as you can so you can get everything lined up for whoever you’re going to play in the first round,” said Lackey, who struck out 10 and walked two in eight-plus innings for his first win since Aug. 27.

After a leadoff double by B.J. Upton in the ninth on Lackey’s 105th pitch, Francisco Rodriguez came on for his 36th save in 42 chances. He struck out his first two batters before issuing a walk and giving up an RBI single to Jorge Velandia, his third hit of the game. Rodriguez then fanned Josh Wilson to end it.

“Offensively, we really had a rough night, but John picked us up and pitched one of the best games he’s pitched all year,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He had good stuff, to begin with. He had a live fastball, changed speeds very well with his breaking ball, mixed in some good changeups and maintained his stuff.

“I think if we had a little more of a buffer, John probably could have had a longer rope and might have had an opportunity to finish that game,” he added. “He might have had eight or 10 more pitches in him, but at that point in the game with Frankie ready, it just didn’t make sense to let him keep going.”

Lackey (17-9) improved to 8-1 against the Devil Rays. The right-hander fanned slugger Carlos Pena three times, getting him in the eighth on a breaking ball with the potential tying runs on base.

“I’ve seen it before, where Carlos expands his strike zone, but that was a good job on him tonight from their end of things,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “What Carlos has been able to do this year is not swing at those kind of pitches that often. So that just indicates to me how sharp their pitching was against him.”

Jason Hammel (2-5) allowed two runs and seven hits over six innings for Tampa Bay. The right-hander is 1-11 in 21 major league starts despite a 2.35 ERA in his last four outings.

“He’s been pitching really well lately,” Maddon said. “We’ve made some adjustments with him mechanically, and he’s turned into more of a strike thrower. His velocity’s picked up a bit and his composure’s good.”

Chone Figgins opened the first inning with an opposite-field single, stole second, continued to third on catcher Dioner Navarro’s throwing error and scored on a wild pitch. The stolen base made Figgins the third player in the Angels’ 47-year history with 40 or more in three consecutive seasons, joining Gary Pettis (1984-86) and Luis Polonia (1991-93).

A perfect relay from left fielder Jonny Gomes to shortstop Wilson to Navarro kept the score 1-0 in the Angels’ fourth, as Casey Kotchman was cut down trying to score from first base on Howie Kendrick’s double to the fence in left-center.

But in the sixth, the Angels scored their second run with the help of a questionable call by first base umpire Brian Runge on a bang-bang play.

After Kotchman was intentionally walked with one out and a runner at third, Kendrick followed with a potential double-play grounder to shortstop. The relay to first from second baseman Velandia appeared to get there just ahead of Kendrick’s foot, but Runge called him safe and Maddon came out to argue.

“It was a pretty big moment, but that’s part of the game and you can’t cry about it,” said Maddon, whose Devil Rays are 0-7 at Angel Stadium since he left his job as Angels bench coach two seasons ago.

Notes

Lackey and Escobar (17-7) are the first pair of Angels teammates to win at least 17 games in a season since 1991. The club had three that year—Mark Langston (19), Chuck Finley (18) and Jim Abbott (18). … LHP J.P. Howell will pitch for the Devil Rays on Wednesday instead of scheduled starter James Shields, who is being shut down for the final two weeks of the season for no other reason than his total of innings pitched. He has 215 in 31 starts, compared to 124 2-3 innings in 21 starts last year as a rookie. … RHP Ervin Santana will start Wednesday for the Angels instead of RHP Bartolo Colon, who developed back stiffness following his 4 2-3 innings last Friday against the White Sox—his first outing since July 23. … The Devil Rays chased their opponent’s starting pitcher in less than five innings in six of the previous eight games. … Velandia is 8-for-13 since he was called up from the minors on Sept. 10.

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