Finally putting all the elements of their game together, they watched the Cardinals make it interesting with a three-run ninth inning on Saturday before Fernando Rodney finished a job Scott Kazmir had started with an uplifting performance.
With Kazmir yielding just three hits across seven strong innings, the Angels erupted offensively against Kyle Lohse, hammering out a 10-7 decision in front of 44,091 on a perfect late spring day.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
"That's the way he can pitch," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Kazmir. "He had good stuff -- good sliders, good fastball command in and out. He has the potential to pitch that way every time out."
Kazmir, in a season of constant tinkering and refining, feels he has found the arm slot and rhythm he's been seeking while altering his delivery, going back to his original motion and bringing his premium stuff over the top in the fashion that made him an ace and two-time All-Star in Tampa Bay before he was 25.
"That felt much better today," Kazmir said. "I was getting good extension, not cutting anything off. I was working both sides of the plate, moving the fastball in and out, and I had good movement. I was able to keep guys guessing and expand the strike zone, elevate with two strikes."
Kendry Morales, with two RBI doubles and a single, powered the Angels' offense along with Mike Napoli, who unloaded a two-run homer, his second in two nights.
Torii Hunter and Hideki Matsui delivered two-run singles and Morales had an RBI double during a five-run third inning that broke it open. Kevin Frandsen doubled twice and singled, Erick Aybar had a pair of singles, and Howard Kendrick delivered an RBI double.
Bobby Abreu contributed an RBI single to go with two walks, scoring run No. 1,300 of his career in his 1,900th game in right field, the most among active players.
Kazmir, however, was the story. At 26, he has the ability to give the Angels a huge shot in the arm.
"I haven't faced him since '05, when we went to Tampa," said Albert Pujols, who was hitless in four at-bats. "And back then, he used to throw the ball hard, but he couldn't control the ball good.
"Now, he doesn't have the velocity that he wants, but he's keeping the ball down pretty well and mixing his pitches -- a sinker here and there, a slider. That's what he did, he kept the ball down."
After Kazmir departed, some anxiety surfaced in the three-run ninth before order was restored by Rodney. He got Joe Mather to pop up and struck out Jon Jay, hitters not to be confused with the ones they'd replaced. Ryan Ludwick and Pujols were pulled by Cards manager Tony La Russa with his team down by a touchdown late.
"Absolutely," Scioscia said when asked if he agreed with La Russa's decision. "As a manager, you're always concerned with the long-term health of guys. If the game's tilted one way or another, you can find ways to get guys off their feet.
"It's important for several reasons. You're getting guys playing time -- every guy needs to play -- and there's always the possibility you're stopping guys from diving at balls, getting hurt."
Kazmir (3-4) watched Matt Holliday unload a 427-foot homer on his first changeup of the game leading off the second inning before walking the next two batters.
After that, the lefty settled into a groove, yielding another run on a fielder's choice while starting a run of 17 consecutive outs before a walk, a bloop single by Brendan Ryan and an error by right fielder Abreu gave the Cards a run in the seventh.
Kazmir, whose longest outing was six innings through his first six starts, went seven innings in Texas in his previous appearance, losing, 4-3.
"He finished strong in that start, and carried it over," Scioscia said.
Kazmir maintained his command while unleashing 112 pitches, striking out five while allowing just six baserunners.
"Kazmir didn't pitch like a guy with a 6.00 ERA," said La Russa. "Once he got in a groove, he made a lot of pitches and pitched with a lot of confidence."
Lohse's day was all downhill after a perfect first. Morales' RBI double cashed in Hunter, who'd walked, for a lead in the second.
Aybar ignited the third-inning outburst with a bunt single after Kazmir had been robbed by third baseman David Freese on a bullet. Walks to Kendrick and Abreu preceded Hunter's two-run rocket single to left. Morales doubled home a run to dead center, putting two runners in scoring position for Matsui, who delivered with a single to right-center.
Napoli's homer in the fifth, following Morales' single, came against lefty Trever Miller, who replaced Lohse with one out in the fourth. Lohse (1-4) was charged with six earned runs on seven hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings.
Kazmir turned it over to Bobby Cassevah, who gave up a run on doubles by Mather and Holliday in the eighth.
Aybar's error opened the gates in the ninth, a one-out double by Ryan and pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker's RBI single ending Cassevah's day. In came Rodney, who gave up an RBI single to Felipe Lopez, with another run scoring when right fielder Reggie Willits slipped and let the ball get past him for an error. Rodney then composed himself and finished it off.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.