DETROIT -- Their oft-criticized offense generated three homers and two doubles among nine hits, but the Angels, to a man, felt they won their season-high sixth consecutive game with the leather. "No doubt about it," Chone Figgins said. "Our defense was the difference tonight." A leaping stab by shortstop Orlando Cabrera with the bases loaded finished off a 6-3 decision over the Tigers after center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. had deprived Detroit of at least three runs with a pair of spectacular catches on Tuesday night.
Figgins at third base and Robb Quinlan at first also dazzled with the glove, helping make a winning pitcher of John Lackey on a night that the big Texan labored in front of 28,678 at Comerica Park. "The guys played great defense for me -- they really picked me up," said Lackey, who moved to 7-3 with five innings of one-run work. "I had to have it tonight, because I didn't pitch very well. I wasn't locating much of anything." Winning their 11th of the past 13 to push their American League West lead to 5 1/2 games over Oakland and Seattle, the Angels rode homers by Mike Napoli, Cabrera and Quinlan. Down 6-1 in the ninth, Detroit rallied with a pair of runs charged to Darren Oliver before Francisco Rodriguez retired Carlos Guillen, a .323 hitter, on the bases-loaded line drive that fully extended Cabrera behind second. "I didn't even see the ball," K-Rod said, having notched his 14th save in 15 attempts. "I was in my follow through toward first base." "It wasn't that tough," said the modest Cabrera, in the midst of a Gold Glove season at shortstop. Manager Mike Scioscia thought otherwise. "The trajectory off the bat, it looked like it was going to be a hit," Scioscia said. "'O' timed his leap perfectly. Believe me, that was not an easy play. That was a terrific play." Scioscia called Matthews' two spectacular plays the equivalent of three RBIs on a night the cleanup man was hitless behind Vlad Guerrero, who had one single in four trips. Napoli's fourth homer, a 410-foot blast to left center, opened the third inning against losing pitcher Mike Maroth (3-1). Figgins' ringing double to left preceded Cabrera's two-run blast to left, his second. Magglio Ordonez's 10th homer in the fourth was all the damage against Lackey. Napoli's walk, Figgins' single and a pair of sacrifice flies by Reggie Willits and Cabrera made it 5-1 in the fifth. Quinlan, whose backhanded stab robbed Curtis Granderson leading off the third, went deep to left, his second, in the sixth. Figgins' contribution to Lackey's defense was a backhanded stab of Ordonez's hard grounder in the fifth leaving two runners stranded. That was Lackey's 101st -- and final -- delivery. The first of Matthews' two saving plays was a sprawling stab of Brandon Inge's sinking liner, which saved at least two runs for Lackey with the bases loaded and two outs in the second. "For me, the sinking liner is the toughest play," Matthews said. "Either you've got to lay out and catch it or keep it in front of you." He took it inches off the surface. If it had gotten past him, Craig Monroe would have scored from first for a 3-0 Detroit lead. Instead, it was a scoreless game. "He's a huge difference-maker -- that second-inning play saved the game for me, personally, and maybe the team," Lackey said of Matthews. "Who knows how long I'd have been out there if he doesn't make the play." Matthews had to retreat, full tilt, for his fully extended grab in right-center that robbed Monroe with a man on base in the sixth against Dustin Moseley, who worked two scoreless innings of relief. "I knew I had enough room," Matthews said. "It's so big out there. The ball was carrying a little better than I've seen here. "It's like when you're a kid ... that one's a lot more fun than the sinking liner. You just try to play with your instincts." Napoli, who joined Cabrera and Figgins in delivering two hits, caught 174 pitches while extending his career-best hitting streak to 10 games. "I'm starting to feel real good, as good as last year," Napoli said, referring to his blazing start to his rookie season. "I just need to keep it simple -- see the ball, hit the ball." Behind the plate, it changes slightly to make the call, see the ball, catch the ball, block the ball. It sounds a lot simpler than it is.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.