Kendrick lifts Angels over Rangers in 10

Kendrick lifts Angels over Rangers

ANAHEIM -- This just in: Major League Baseball's best team on Sept. 1 is the one representing Los Angeles, Anaheim, Azusa and Rancho Cucamonga.

The Angels.

By a slender half-game, thanks to their 7-6 decision in 10 innings over Texas on Friday night and Baltimore's triumph over Boston, the Angels (80-54) have overtaken the Red Sox (80-55) while opening up a lead of 6 1/2 games over the Mariners in the American League West.

"It means we're playing good baseball and we've been able to get through all the issues with injuries," Garret Anderson said, having lashed a two-run homer and scored the winning run on Howie Kendrick's single after a walk to open the 10th.

"We've stayed the course. Everybody who's played has done the job -- and we've had a lot of guys come in and contribute with all the injuries we've had."

Teams with the best records in each league earn home-field advantage in the postseason, always a nice prize for six months of labor to have if your aim is the Fall Classic.

But that's getting far too ahead of the story to suit Angels field commander Mike Scioscia, whose only concern is Kelvim Escobar vs. Edinson Volquez at 12:55 p.m. PT on Saturday afternoon at Angel Stadium.

Kendrick's single off Frank Francisco (1-1) won it for reliever Darren Oliver (2-0) after the Rangers had tied it on Sammy Sosa's bloop RBI single in the ninth against Francisco Rodriguez.

"I was trying to stay back, and I got a fastball and tried to stay through the middle," Kendrick said of the Angels' ninth walk-off hit of the season. "That says we have a lot of heart. Every guy in that lineup can step up and get the job done."

It has to be a formidable lineup if a .315 hitter such as Kendrick is batting eighth.

Anderson's leadoff walk in the 10th against Francisco, setting in motion events leading to Kendrick's third hit, meant as much in the big scheme as his two-run homer against Vicente Padilla in the fifth giving his team a 5-4 lead.

"It's good to do things like that when you're young," Anderson said of Kendrick's decisive hit. "You can say, `I've done it before,' when you're in that situation again."

Having been in every situation known to a ballplayer, Anderson worked Francisco for the walk, knowing the Rangers reliever is a hard thrower -- and "he's not going to let me beat him there."

"He's a fastball pitcher and he threw me two of them -- down and away to walk me," Anderson said.

Anderson's drive into the right-field seats in the fifth came after a two-out walk by Vladimir Guerrero. Anderson's torture of Rangers pitching over the years is well documented, as his 138 career hits against Texas are exceeded only by George Brett's 155.

"That was a fastball up and away," Anderson said of Padilla's 93-mph heater. "I got to it."

Rangers manager Ron Washington was impressed with the AL West leaders.

"The Angels have a good team," Washington said. "They send guys up there who know how to play. They put the ball in play and they have some power. They pitch and they play defense. They have some speed in the outfield.

"They have a little bit of everything. I like the way we fought them."

Angels starter Joe Saunders got through five challenging innings, giving up four runs (two earned) on 10 hits, making quality pitches when he needed them to prevent the Rangers from busting it open.

Saunders fell behind by two runs in the second, but it could have been worse. He left the bases loaded when he retired Sosa on a roller to shortstop, the Rangers having scored twice on four singles.

The Angels quickly tied it when Maicer Izturis walked, Kendry Morales doubled and Kendrick's double to the right-center gap drove both men home.

Consecutive singles by Izturis, Morales and Casey Kotchman produced a 3-2 cushion for Saunders in the fourth. But the Rangers regained the lead in the fifth when Guerrero misjudged a two-out fly ball by Nelson Cruz with two runners on, the ball bounding off his glove for a three-base error.

Chris Bootcheck erased a runner inherited from Saunders in the sixth when he cooled off Ian Kinsler (three hits) with a double-play grounder and struck out Gerald Laird.

With wife Jina expecting their first child in October, Bootcheck will have another mouth to feed -- and he is pitching like a man on a mission with a 1.69 ERA across his past 12 outings, covering 21 1/3 innings.

A non-roster invitee who made the club after a strong Spring Training showing, Bootcheck has been an unsung stalwart in middle relief all season. He struck out two of the three men he faced in Seattle on Wednesday behind Jered Weaver, finishing the sweep of the reeling Mariners.

Cruz's seventh homer of the season with one out in the eighth off Justin Speier -- who'd retired the first four men he faced -- made it a one-run game. When Jarrod Saltalamacchia followed with a ringing double, his second hit, Scioscia summoned Scot Shields.

Back in a groove after his recent struggles, Shields retired pinch-hitter Frank Catalonotto on a grounder and Kinsler on a popup, handing a one-run advantage over to K-Rod.

Michael Young's third single and steal put him in position to score when Sosa reached out and flared a single to right.

A sprawling stab by Izturis at third on Marlon Byrd's grounder headed toward left field got an out on a force before Jason Botts struck out to end the ninth.

After Oliver worked a perfect 10th, Anderson walked and was bunted to second by Izturis. An intentional walk to Morales was followed by Kotchman's force, bringing Kendrick to the plate with two outs.

The second baseman delivered, and the Angels owned the best record in the game on Sept. 1.

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