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Saunders KO'd early as Angels drop finale

Saunders KO'd early as Angels drop finale

ANAHEIM -- Former Yankees Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui warmed up for a weekend invasion by the Bronx Bombers with big efforts on Thursday night, but the Angels still struggled to take flight.

On another frigid night at Angel Stadium, the Tigers knocked out Joe Saunders after only 2 2/3 innings and went on to dispatch the Angels, 5-4, to earn a split of a four-game series.

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"If we keep swinging like we are," Abreu said, "we're going to put it together. We hit some balls hard that didn't fall, and we made some mistakes that cost us. I made one when I got doubled off first [in the second inning] when Torii [Hunter] hit a line drive to right field that I thought was going to drop down.

"We'll get it going. Manana."

Abreu, with two doubles, a single and a walk, achieved a milestone when he became the 14th active player to reach 3,500 total bases.

Matsui, lashing a solo homer and single, also did his part to elevate his offense while playing his second game in left field. That's two more than he played last season as the designated hitter for the World Series champion Yankees, who presented the Series MVP his championship ring when the Angels visited the Bronx last week.

"Our batter's box offense and situational hitting are going to be very important to us," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We've seen glimpses of what this lineup can do. We're not firing on all cylinders now. It's a small sample. We're kind of treading water right now."

Saunders fell to 1-3 with his briefest outing since last August right before he went to the disabled list with shoulder tightness. The Tigers roughed him up for five earned runs on six hits -- four of those doubles -- and two walks.

"Joe didn't have his game out there," Scioscia said. "He struggled early. He threw more balls than strikes, and that's uncharacteristic of Joe."

Roles were reversed this time. It was the battered bullpen that came to the rescue of a rotation that has been lights out lately.

Matt Palmer (4 1/3 scoreless innings), Brian Stokes and Jason Bulger kept the Angels in the game, but Detroit's bullpen also got the job done behind Justin Verlander (1-1).

After Matsui unloaded his fourth homer of the season to center in the fifth to make it a one-run game, the Angels were unable to break through against the Tigers' relief corps.

Jose Valverde finished the job in the ninth to save it, but Joel Zumaya, Phil Coke and Ryan Perry each had a hand in frustrating the Angels' offense.

"Hats off to the bullpen," Saunders said. "Those guys did a great job. I was missing out over the plate. It seemed like every time they swung the bat, they hit it where we weren't. They're a great hitting ballclub. I didn't have command of my pitches that I had in my last start."

Saunders was dominant in Toronto, holding the Jays to two unearned runs in eight innings, but he hasn't had the kind of April he's accustomed to given his 10-1 record in the opening month coming into the season.

Magglio Ordonez doubled home Johnny Damon, and Carlos Guillen singled home Ordonez for a 2-0 Tigers lead in the top of the first.

The Angels got those runs back against Verlander when Abreu doubled to center, Torii Hunter walked and Matsui singled to load the bases for Kendry Morales, who slashed a two-run single to left center.

Brandon Wood's frustrations deepened when Verlander struck him out with 98 mph heat to leave the bases loaded.

Gerald Laird doubled and scored on Adam Everett's sacrifice fly in the second, and the Tigers made it 5-2 in the third on doubles by Damon and Miguel Cabrera around a walk to Ordonez. Guillen's infield out cashed in Ordonez.

Maicer Izturis manufactured a run with two outs in the third when he walked, stole second and scored on Mike Napoli's single.

The Angels caught a break in the fifth when Guillen stumbled and fell rounding third on a two-out single to center by Scott Sizemore and was tagged out, leaving the game with a hamstring strain.

Verlander made it through five innings, giving up four earned runs on six hits and four walks while striking out four men.

After leaving Abreu stranded at third in the seventh after his second double of the night, the Angels loaded the bases in the eighth on singles by Morales and pinch-hitter Kendrick and a pitch off the arm of pinch-hitter Juan Rivera.

But Perry struck out Erick Aybar looking to preserve the one-run lead, and Valverde took care of the ninth after Abreu's leadoff walk for his fifth save.

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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