OAKLAND -- This was more like it for Scott Kazmir. The Angels scored some runs for him, and -- way more important in the big scheme -- he stood tall and had smooth rhythm on his slider, snapping it sharply and putting it in the right places. Tuning up for his projected Game 3 start in the American League Division Series in Boston, Kazmir delivered five shutout innings in the Angels' 4-2 verdict over the Athletics on Saturday in front of 16,539 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
"I'm trying to stand tall and get downward action with later break, sharper break," Kazmir said. "It's all about balance. I can't throw the slider before my arm is ready. If you do, you don't get good extension. By standing tall, I'm staying back, and that's giving me the balance I need. "For the most part, it felt good. I threw a lot of sliders, especially to left-handers. And my changeup was good. All in all, for everything, it was the best I've felt since I've been here." Right on time, with the Red Sox in the on-deck circle. Robb Quinlan and Erick Aybar were the primary offensive weapons in support of Kazmir, who shaved his ERA in six starts for the Angels to 1.73 by yielding only three hits and one walk while striking out three men. "What got me out of trouble [in previous starts] was fastball command," Kazmir said. "I was able to work both sides and show the offspeed." This time, he was able to put hitters away with the slider, striking out Landon Powell in the second inning with it and Eric Patterson in the third. All four pitches Kazmir threw to Patterson were breakers. "Sometimes you have to give the other team credit," said A's catalyst Rajai Davis, who had an infield hit in three at-bats against Kazmir. "The Angels do have a good pitching staff, and Kazmir's right at the top of the list as far as I'm concerned." Jason Bulger, taking over in the eighth, left the game with a twinge in his right shoulder after striking out two men and surrendering a run on a walk and triple by Patterson. Davis' double against Rafael Rodriguez scored Patterson. "With a couple of days to rest it up, I'll be OK," said Bulger, who has been a workhorse in the bullpen all season. "I didn't want to pitch through something that could turn into an injury. You don't want to come out of a game, but I'm not concerned about it. I'll be ready to go." Brian Fuentes nailed down his Major League-high 48th save, shaving his ERA to 3.93. Kazmir is 10-9 for the season and 2-2 with the Angels, who had scored only eight runs while he was working in his previous five outings. Underscoring the high quality of his work in his new environment, the 26-year-old lefty has allowed only 37 baserunners and seven runs in 36 1/3 innings, striking out 26 while walking only nine. "It was a situation where he had a lot broader canvas to work on some things he wanted to get in place for next weekend," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He threw a good amount of sliders, and he definitely threw some good ones. He got everything you would hope to get out of that outing. It should have him set up for next week." Quinlan, finding his rhythm for a bench role in the postseason, drove in three runs with a single and double. Aybar drilled three singles, scoring twice. Juan Rivera also had two hits, and Gary Matthews Jr. delivered an RBI double. "I might not get to play a lot," Quinlan said, "but when I do, I try to make things happen. I got some opportunities with guys on base, and I got some hits. I have the approach to try to do one or two things to help the team win. If you try to do too much, you're probably not going to do anything." Singles by Rivera and Aybar in the second inning were cashed in with two outs when Quinlan stroked a single to left against southpaw Dana Eveland (2-4). In the fourth, Aybar singled with two out and Matthews smacked a double to left center to bring him home. Quinlan followed with an RBI double to center. Giving Kendry Morales a day off, Quinlan also dazzled with the glove at first base, making several quality plays behind Kazmir. After the lefty departed, Matt Palmer worked a pair of scoreless innings, reducing his ERA to 3.93 with three strikeouts and only one baserunner, on a walk. The big right-hander has given up just one hit in his past seven innings, walking three and striking out five. Southpaw Joe Saunders, with wins in six straight decisions and seven of eight, makes his final tuneup against right-hander Edgar Gonzalez on Sunday in the season finale.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.