ANAHEIM -- You can go home again. That was how Gary Matthews was feeling Monday night, having made his Angels debut memorable on a number of fronts, both professional and personal. With his mother and her parents watching from seats above the Angels dugout, Matthews made a pair of spectacular catches saving at least three runs in a 4-1 decision by his new club against his old club, the Texas Rangers. The Smith family, headed by grandfather Willie, 90, and wife Birdie, 86, cheered with the sellout crowd of 43,906 as the Angels used power, pitching and timely defense to launch their quest for the American League West title they surrendered last season to Oakland after burying themselves with a dismal start.
"Just to do everything I'm capable of doing, show a little bit of everything -- that's a good feeling," Matthews said. "It's Opening Day, and you try to approach it the same as any other game. But there truly is no feeling like Opening Day." John Lackey fought his way through five innings for the victory, holding the Rangers to one unearned run with five strikeouts in part because of Matthews' theatrics in center. "You've got to be able to give your team a chance to win when you don't have your good stuff," Lackey said. "If you can grind out a couple of those along the way, it really helps." The bullpen -- Justin Speier, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez -- was dominant. The trio produced the final 12 outs without allowing a baserunner, Speier accounting for half of those outs in the sixth and seventh before Shields and K-Rod slammed the door shut. Matthews, acquired for his glove and his ability to make things happen as a leadoff man, quickly introduced himself to the new crowd. In the top of the first, he ranged to the wall in right-center to glove Mark Teixeira's two-out drive and keep the Rangers off the board with a runner on third. In the bottom half, Matthews walked on Kevin Millwood's first four pitches, scoring when Vladimir Guerrero's first swing of the season sent a ball into the left-field corner, a rocket between third baseman Hank Blalock and the bag. Casey Kotchman's homer leading off the second -- off the top of the wall, beyond Kenny Lofton's grasp -- made it 2-0. Ian Kinsler cut that in half with a homer to center in the third after catcher Mike Napoli couldn't handle his foul popup for an error. That's when things got difficult for Lackey. Matthews' two-out error on a drive by Michael Young kept the inning alive, and walks to Teixeira and Sammy Sosa brought Blalock to the plate. A line drive appeared to be sinking for two runs when Matthews came flying in and made the sliding stab, inches from the surface. "That's probably the tougher of the two catches," Matthews said. "You have to try to judge it as you're coming in, not knowing if the ball will sink before you can get there. The other one, you're just trying to beat the clock, beat the ball to the wall." The Rangers weren't surprised. They'd seen Matthews' act many times. "He spoiled us," said Young, who joined Matthews on the American League All-Star team last year. "He's a great outfielder." The Angels tacked on another run in the fifth against Millwood when Napoli singled, stole second, moved to third on Gerald Laird's throwing error and scored on Maicer Izturis' single. In the eighth, Garret Anderson laced a double to right, scoring on Shea Hillenbrand's single to center. Hillenbrand, Speier and Matthews are all new to the cast, and each delivered on cue. "That was huge," Lackey said of Speier's work in the sixth, when he bailed out Darren Oliver after a single and walk, getting Laird to pop out on a bunt and erasing Kinsler on a double play started by Izturis at third and turned at second by Howie Kendrick. Manager Mike Scioscia praised Lackey for gutting it out on a 96-pitch expedition in his second Opening Day start -- he lost the other one to Texas in 2003 -- and was effusive in praise of his bullpen. "We're not going to be able to get 12 outs a night from Justin, Scot and Frankie," Scioscia said. "John wasn't pitch-efficient enough to get deeper in the game. They worked some deep counts, and he lost two outs with errors. That didn't help." What did help were Matthews' legs and glove when it counted. "It had a little more meaning for me with my family here, especially my grandfather and grandmother," said the beneficiary of a five-year, $50 million free-agent contract. "They were really instrumental in my upbringing. "For my family to be up there watching, that's exactly why I wanted to come here. It's the best of both worlds for me." Born in San Francisco, Matthews grew up in the San Fernando Valley, attending Granada Hills High School and Mission College in nearby Sylmar. His father is former Major League star Gary "Sarge" Matthews, an outfielder who played the game with a fierce pride. On this very special occasion, it was clear the kid was born to play the game his father honored.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.