Matsui gets first game-winning hit for Angels

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Now that last year’s World Series MVP is on their side, the Los Angeles Angels are feeling confident in pressure situations.

Hideki Matsui(notes) singled home the winning run with one out in the ninth inning, giving the three-time defending AL West champions a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday night.

Bobby Abreu(notes) started the winning rally with the Angels’ sixth double—one more than their total in the previous five games. Craig Breslow(notes) (0-1) intentionally walked Torii Hunter(notes), then fell behind Matsui 2-0 before he lined the next pitch just inside the right-field line for his first game-ending hit with the Angels.

“It’s the first of many,” Hunter said. “I told you in spring training— the quiet assassin. He’s the quietest clutch hitter in the game. He’s so relaxed, man. Nothing really fazes him. Just think about all the people around him all the time. It doesn’t bother him at all. He’s used to that. I think that’s why he’s so dangerous.”

Matsui’s three hits and two RBIs, including a run-scoring double in the third, made him 10 for 24 with five RBIs in his first six games. He also has two homers after coming over from the New York Yankees in the offseason.

“It’s nice to see him in red instead of the pinstripes,” Angels pitcher Jered Weaver(notes) said. “Everybody wanted to know what we were going to do when we lost Vladdy (Guerrero), but we always seem to pick up the right guys to fill the holes. Anytime he comes up with a guy on second or third and two outs, he’s going to come up with that big knock. He’s proved it over and over.”

Fernando Rodney(notes) (1-0) got the win with an inning of perfect relief, ending Oakland’s four-game winning streak. The Angels, who stopped a four-game slide, avoided what would have been their first 1-5 start since their inaugural 1961 season. They had given up 10 runs in each of their previous two games—the first time that happened to them since July 2005.

“I think today’s win was very important,” Matsui said through a translator. “Obviously, stopping the losing streak, but just with the way the game was flowing. Having the lead at first, then they came back. If we would’ve lost this game it would’ve left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.”

Weaver allowed four hits in six innings, struck out seven and left with a 3-1 lead.

But Eric Chavez(notes) greeted Kevin Jepsen(notes) with a leadoff double in the seventh, then came around on a wild pitch and a groundout by Travis Buck(notes).

In the eighth, Daric Barton(notes) drew a walk from Scot Shields(notes), took third on Ryan Sweeney’s(notes) double and scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by Kevin Kouzmanoff(notes), who homered with two outs in the fourth for Oakland’s first hit.

Ben Sheets(notes) gave up three runs and 10 hits over six innings in the second start of his comeback after missing last season because of elbow surgery. The right-hander escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth by retiring Howie Kendrick(notes) on a double-play grounder.

“I know it’s going to get better,” Sheets said. “This ain’t my stuff, but I know it’s going to come back. Right now I don’t feel like I have the ability to rear back and blow somebody away, so I’ve got to make pitches and keep battling. Sometimes I try to force it, and when I force things, it has a negative effect on me. So I just take what it gives me and try to ride it out.”

Sheets has pitched in four All-Star games, but has never had more than 13 wins in one year. One reason is that he’s been on the disabled list seven times in his career—missing the equivalent of more than two seasons.

“That’s a lot of time,” Sheets said. “The reality is in the numbers. I mean, you can always play the what-if game, but I’ve never lost a night of sleep worrying about what could have happened. You play the hand you’re dealt.”

NOTES: OF-DH Jack Cust(notes), designated for assignment by Oakland on April 3, accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Sacramento. It means the Athletics have to pay him his $2.65 million salary for this season. … All 223 of Sheets’ big league appearances have been as a starter. The only pitchers who have had more career starts without pitching in relief are Tom Glavine(notes) (682), CC Sabathia(notes) (290) and Juan Guzman (240). … Jeff Mathis(notes), who had a bunt single during the fourth-inning rally, was the first Angels hitter to bunt his way on this season. They led the majors last year with 34 bunt hits. .. Weaver has yielded just three earned runs over 23 innings in his last four starts against Oakland. … It was the fourth game-ending hit of Matsui’s career.

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