Angels' Bourjos comes up big in comeback
Rookie belts first Major League home run in four-RBI day
MINNEAPOLIS -- For all those people wondering why the Angels would move perennial Gold Glover Torii Hunter to right field, Peter Bourjos, the new kid in center, was happy to supply a few emphatic answers in a national telecast on Saturday at Target Field.
Bourjos, the 23-year-old sprinter from Scottsdale, Ariz., put all of his tools on display in a 9-3 decision over the Twins.
Bourjos lashed his first Major League homer, reaching first as the hard-hit ball was clearing the left-field wall. He tripled to the right-center gap. He ran down fly balls and launched an accurate throw from mid-range center for a double play that took the Angels out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning.
"He showed it today," Hunter said of his prize student. "We had a talk during batting practice. I told him to relax, just play, don't get caught up in mechanics.
"When I was young, I wanted to be perfect, to show I was coachable. I told him, `You're a freak of nature. Use your God-given ability and don't think about it too much. Your body will tell you when to pull, when to go to right field. Trust it.'"
Bourjos took his mentor's words to heart. With four hits in the past three games, he raised his average to .170.
Angels starter Trevor Bell fell two outs shy of qualifying for the victory, needing 96 pitches to get 13 outs.
Francisco Rodriguez (1-3) collected his first Major League win with eight outs of quality relief featuring a 3-6-1 double play he finished that was started by Mike Napoli at first. Fernando Rodney and Brian Fuentes, getting some much needed work, finished up.
"Really?" Rodriguez said when told the win was his first. "We won, that's what matters. It wasn't his best day, but Trevor worked hard. Everybody contributed. Today was huge in my personal opinion. We can do a great comeback here. Why not?"
With Texas losing in Baltimore, the Angels trimmed the Rangers' American League West lead to seven games with 38 left -- including seven with the frontrunners.
Bell was down 3-0 after the first inning, but the Angels seized the lead in the second on singles by Hideki Matsui and Erick Aybar, a sacrifice fly by Mike Napoli and Bourjos' two-run shot to left, followed promptly by Bobby Abreu's homer to right center.
"I didn't think it was going to go out," Bourjos said, having claimed the ball as a memento courtesy of Twins left fielder Delmon Young when it came back on the field. "I thought it was going to hit the top of the wall. I didn't know it was out until I hit second base and was heading to third.
"After I hit the home run, I felt a lot more confidence. When I hit the triple the other way, I stayed inside the ball. I've been falling off. To stay here, you've got to produce on both sides, offense and defense."
Abreu followed with a milestone blast. His 15th homer of the season put him in a class with Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero as the only active players to reach 15 for 13 consecutive seasons.
Kevin Slowey, who threw seven no-hit innings in his previous outing, escaped a third-inning jam and departed with right triceps discomfort. He fell to 11-6 with the loss.
Bell fell behind in the first on three walks and run-producing singles by Michael Cuddyer and Young. He put up three zeros and was replaced by Rodriguez after yielding a pair of one-out singles in the fifth.
"After we scored four," Bell said, "I had to hold them down. It's not about personal `W's' -- it's about us getting a big win. That's the type of win we need now."
After Jim Thome greeted Rodriguez with a single, loading the bases, Delmon Young -- tied for fifth in the AL with 88 RBIs -- sent a fly ball to medium center.
Bourjos, who said the ball drifted on him and he didn't gather enough momentum to unload, credited catcher Jeff Mathis with "a great play" handling the throw on the short hop and tagging Jason Kubel.
"On the defensive side," manager Mike Scioscia said, "we made plays when we had to, turning double plays. A lot of good things happened today. The only negative was our hitting [1-for-9] with runners in scoring position."
In the fifth, Bourjos' triple cashed in Napoli, who'd walked. A towering fly by Matsui was mishandled by Denard Span in deep center as he fought the bright sun, scoring Hunter. Matsui scored on Aybar's third hit.
"He can move," Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer said of Bourjos. "I thought he was going to lap Napoli on that triple. He can move. He's as fast as I've seen them."
He's no Bourjos, but Matsui showed he still can motor, racing first-to-third twice on Aybar singles and wheeling to third on Span's error in the blinding sun.
"My legs have been feeling good pretty much the whole year," Matsui said through Roger Kahlon's translation. "Last year I hit a triple in Detroit."
Matsui, who smiled at Hunter seated in the dugout, said he couldn't recall going first-to-third twice in a game.
In the ninth, Napoli's single, Mathis' RBI triple and shortstop J.J. Hardy's error on Bourjos' run-scoring grounder added a pair of runs.
With any luck, Howard Kendrick could be 9-for-9 in the two games. He has six hits and has been robbed three times, twice by Span on Saturday. He has lifted his average to .278 by going 10-for-17 in four games.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.