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Weaver outduels counterpart in sweep

Weaver outduels counterpart

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SEATTLE -- Invigorated by the cool, clean air of the Pacific Northwest, the Angels flexed their muscles -- contrary to popular perception, they do have biceps and triceps -- and powered their way to a three-game sweep of the Mariners.

Solo homers by Jeff Mathis and Vladimir Guerrero after a pair of first-inning runs manufactured on singles and baserunning were the undoing of Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who was outdueled by Jered Weaver in the Angels' 8-2 triumph in Wednesday's series finale at Safeco Field.

"We played great baseball all through these games," Weaver said of the Angels pushing their American League West lead to five games over Seattle. "Offensively, defensively, pitching ... we played a great all-around series. That's the way we have to play, together."

The Angels homered five times in the series while keeping the Mariners inside their own park, homerless. Batting .374 as a team, the Angels had nine doubles and a triple for 15 extra-base hits compared to four by the Mariners -- two doubles and two triples, all in the middle game of the series.

"We've got some guys here who can drive the ball," Garret Anderson said. "We hit a lot of gaps, and those doubles can be as important as home runs. In this series, all of our homers meant something, too."

Manager Mike Scioscia said this offense is the closest the Angels have come to the 2002 unit that didn't stop pounding away until it had won the World Series.

"We're much closer to that offensive chemistry we had in '02 than any other club we've had here," Scioscia said.

Embarking on a four-city, 10-game road trip to Cleveland, Toronto, New York and Detroit -- while the Angels head home for 10 games with Texas, Oakland and Cleveland -- the Mariners might find a better playoff opportunity awaiting them in the Wild Card race with 31 games left (29 for the Angels).

The Mariners, 4-11 against the Angels this season, have one more chance to make up ground head-to-head when they visit Angel Stadium Sept. 20-23 for a four-game series.

"[The sweep] leaves no doubt we're a better team at this moment," said shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who delivered one of two superlative, game-altering plays behind Weaver when he robbed Ichiro Suzuki of a hit with a glove flip to second for a force ending the fifth inning.

The other came courtesy of Anderson with a laser throw from the left-field line that shut down the Mariners as they threatened in a two-run game in the seventh.

"Defense can make all the difference in the world," Anderson said, as pleased with nailing Ben Broussard at third as he was with his double and three singles in the 17-hit Angels assault. "Those plays were big. We did a lot of things right in this series."

In the deepest and one of the finest efforts of his young career, Weaver was in full command from the outset, going a career-high eight innings while yielding two runs (one earned). He struck out five and walked none, with 70 of his 100 pitches in the strike zone.

Checking the speed guns on occasion, he saw that his fastball was consistently in the 90-94 mph range -- a significant improvement over the 86-88 readings he'd been getting earlier in the year. Increased velocity made his offspeed stuff, including a killer changeup to left-handed hitters, all the more effective.

"There had to be something wrong," Weaver said of his earlier inconsistency with his fastball. "Throwing 86, 88 is not really where I want to be. There had to be something wrong. The training staff had something to do with getting me back where I need to be -- rotator cuff stuff, extra work. It's been working."

The long ball paid dividends throughout the series, culminating in the blows by Mathis and Guerrero. Anderson got John Lackey jump-started on his shutout in the opener, and homers by Gary Matthews Jr. and Kendry Morales awakened the offense from a five-run first inning deficit on Tuesday night.

In the finale, Hernandez was rocked first by Mathis, whose fourth-inning blast bounded off the top of the wall in left-center, near the 388 sign, and caromed into the bullpen for his second homer of the season and fourth of his career.

"It was a slider, and he left it up," Mathis said. "I was just trying to get my foot down. He throws so dad-gummed hard."

Guerrero, more accustomed to trotting the bases, took a pitch at his shoulders leading off the fifth and tomahawked it over the wall in left-center for his 22nd homer of the season. Vlad has 108 RBIs, third in the AL.

Moved back to the top of the batting order for the first time since May 3, Matthews responded with a leadoff single against Hernandez, going the other way to set the two-run first in motion.

After Cabrera's bullet through the middle, the Angels had runners on the corners for Guerrero, but he waved at sliders away and struck out. That left it up to Anderson. His single through the right side cashed in Matthews and sent Cabrera scurrying to third -- Angels baseball at its best.

Morales' scalding bat produced a single to left for a two-run lead.

The Angels let opportunities slip away in the second and third, squandering two hits in each inning, and the Mariners halved the deficit with an unearned run in the second when Mathis' throwing error on Adrian Beltre's steal enabled him to go to third and score on Broussard's infield out.

Showing a level of confidence that has him playing in what he called a "liberated" fashion, Mathis shot down Jose Lopez straying off first in the fifth before Cabrera's sprawling stop and flip to Howie Kendrick frustrated Ichiro.

Anderson raced to the line to retrieve Kenji Johjima's single, positioning himself to get his body into a perfect throw allowing Maicer Izturis to slap a tag on Broussard in the seventh.

The Angels chased Hernandez in the eighth. Anderson's third hit got it started, and Izturis (.408 with runners in scoring position) drove him home after a wild pitch. Morales' third hit led to another run on Casey Kotchman's fielder's choice grounder.

Anderson's fourth hit, following singles by Cabrera and Guerrero, led to a pair of insurance runs in the ninth when southpaw reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith walked Kotchman and Kendrick to force home runs.

"Too many games left," Anderson said. "I've seen too many crazy things happen. It's not over, by any means."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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