OAKLAND -- We have lift off. After spending a month hitting line drives and ground balls, generating offense, but not in his customary high style, Vladimir Guerrero found his home run stroke on Thursday night at the expense of the Oakland A's. Ending a 30-game homer drought dating back to June 23 and measuring 125 at-bats, Guerrero went deep twice and drove in four runs, powering the Angels and southpaw Joe Saunders to a 6-4 win in front of 21,654 at McAfee Coliseum.
"Same approach as always, nothing new," Guerrero said through broadcaster Jose Mota's translation. "The difference is, I was able to get more lift, more carry. I didn't change anything. If I was starting to look for home runs, I wouldn't get them." After warming up with a fly ball to center in the first, Guerrero got the necessary lift in his stroke in consecutive innings, the fourth and fifth, against A's starter Chad Gaudin. The first was a solo shot over the left-field wall, giving Saunders the lead. His teammates greeted Vlad in the dugout with the old silent treatment, finally erupting in joy as Orlando Cabrera threw his arms around a beaming Guerrero. The second blow was the big one, a three-run rocket into the left-center bleachers. It returned the lead to Saunders after Mark Ellis had gotten the A's even with a fourth-inning homer. "It was a good pitch, the right pitch," Gaudin said of Guerrero's first blast. "He's just a freak." The second came on a fastball on the inner part of the plate, another decent pitch that a great hitter crushed. Saunders moved to 5-0 with the win, going 6 2/3 innings and giving up two earned runs on six hits, striking out three. The Angels have won all seven of his starts since he lost the first one on April 5 to the A's. Justin Speier retired all four hitters he faced after replacing Saunders, and Darren Oliver was one out from finishing when Donnie Murphy's two-run homer, his first of the year, brought Francisco Rodriguez out of the bullpen. Three pitches later, Travis Buck had struck out and K-Rod had his 26th save. Taking into account 12 innings the night before in a loss in Seattle, Saunders was determined to get deep in the game, and 102 pitches brought him to his finish line, mission accomplished. Discounting losses in his two 2005 starts when he arrived on the scene, Saunders has been a good-luck charm for his team. Something about the smooth southpaw clearly brings out the best in his teammates. In his 23 starts over the past two seasons, the Angels are 17-6. He is 12-3, the brand of winning percentage (.800) that builds confidence in managers and general managers. But nothing spreads good sensations throughout the troupe like Guerrero on top of his game, crushing pitches and opponents with his superhuman strength and talent. "I knew he was going to break out of that home run drought he was in," Saunders said. "It's nice he did it tonight." After Guerrero was finished with his heavy lifting, Garret Anderson smashed an RBI double in the seventh against reliever Andrew Brown, and Casey Kotchman's double against lefty Joe Kennedy created another run on Reggie Willits' run-scoring ground ball. Guerrero, whose multihomer effort was his first of the year and the 30th of his career, leads the club with 16 homers. In three games since the non-waiver trade deadline passed on July 31, the Angels have homered eight times -- this after hitting only six homers in the previous 24 games. Guerrero put no blame for his homerless stretch on the Home Run Derby in San Francisco, a contest he won with an awe-inspiring display of raw power with Angels third-base coach Dino Ebel serving pitches in his favorite zones. "The Derby had nothing to do with it," Guerrero said. "Even before the Derby, I wasn't getting lift. You can't point to the Derby. I was swinging the same as I always did." The big thing, he maintained, was that he continued to drive in runs and help his team manufacture offense even without the big flies leaving ballparks. He's a total player who unleashes throws from right field and runs the bases with the same passion he carries into the batter's box. "It's always better when you win, no matter what," Guerrero said. "The guys in front of me and behind me were getting on base, and I was still contributing." The four runs batted in give Guerrero 87, fourth in the AL, and he's hitting .326 with six hits in his past two games. "Well," manager Mike Scioscia said, grinning, "we can't call him Wilton any more." Wilton Guerrero, Vlad's brother, was an infielder without much power with the Dodgers who is now a singer back home in the Dominican Republic. Wilton can sing his brother's praises. Never confused with Reggie Jackson, Vlad is much too modest for that kind of behavior.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.