Kendrick provides reminder of Angels' depth
ANAHEIM -- Combined, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo have produced three fewer homers for the Angels than Justin Upton's 11 for the Braves. Though they have plenty of star power, actual power has been in short supply for the Angels coming out of the chute, calling for other sources to emerge and find ways to win.
Enter Howie Kendrick.
No longer a kid and not quite a hardened veteran, Kendrick is squarely in the middle of a fine career, and he had one of his finest games when his team needed it most on Tuesday at Angel Stadium.
Kendrick's second homer of the night, a blast to center against rookie left-hander Joe Ortiz in the 11th inning, created a 5-4 victory that slowed, at least temporarily, a Rangers train that was on a roll with four straight wins. The American League West figures to be a three-team chase, and the Angels knew there was no time like the present to show the Rangers -- and the defending champion Athletics -- they're in it for the long haul.
"It's a great feeling when you get a chance like that to come through for your team, and you do it," Kendrick said. "One of the hardest things to do is to control your emotions in situations like that. You have all those times when you don't come through, but that kind of prepares you in teaching you how to have the right approach. That's the value of experience."
Pivotal games and crucial series do not arrive in April. They come later, when the temperatures rise. But there are important games in the season's cool first month, and this clearly was one for the Angels in the wake of a 7-11 start.
It was time to fire off some sparks, start gathering some momentum.
That's what Kendrick and Trumbo had in mind when they powered a 4-0 lead after four innings, Kendrick going deep with a two-run blast in the fourth against Alexi Ogando after Trumbo's second hit, a double.
That's what Jason Vargas had in mind when he used all of his experience and guile to get through five scoreless innings.
That's what Peter Bourjos, Trout and Luis Jimenez had in mind when they made sensational plays defensively to short-circuit the Texas offense.
But these were the Rangers, and they always have ideas of their own.
"It's funny," Kendrick said. "Adrian Beltre and I were talking about how our games always seem to be tied late. We play so many games like this one. They're one of our toughest rivals, and we bring out the best in each other, I think. The big thing tonight for us is we're trying to get wins, and we got this one. Everyone came through for us."
Down by four, the Rangers rallied with three in the sixth on Nelson Cruz's home run, the fourth of his career in 30 at-bats against Vargas. A pair of singles followed the blast, but Vargas got the two outs he needed to finish the sixth and three more in the seventh before turning it over to a bullpen that has been restructured completely around Ernesto Frieri and Scott Downs.
"Vargas is a fighter," Kendrick said. "I love playing behind a guy like that."
Texas tied it in the eighth with some help from the Angels. But Downs, Frieri and Dane De La Rosa kept the Rangers quiet -- thanks in large part to an otherworldly catch by Trout robbing Texas third baseman Beltre in the ninth with a sprawling catch in the left-field corner.
"The defense was great," Vargas, the veteran lefty acquired from the Mariners for Kendrys Morales, said. "Peter made a great play running down Beltre's ball in the first, and then Trout made that great play on Beltre. Luis made some big plays at third. It's going to limit your pitches when your defense comes through like that, and you know they're right there behind you."
Vargas, a big-time hitter at Long Beach State when he wasn't pitching, used his athleticism to finish a double play at first started by Trumbo on A.J. Pierzynski's grounder in the second. Jimenez started a double play on Kinsler's grounder to finish the third and made a diving stab to take extra bases from Kinsler in the top of the 11th.
The defense faltered momentarily in the eighth when the Rangers tied it, but Downs controlled the damage.
"Against a ballclub like that," Vargas said, "you know they're a team that puts pressure on you late in games. It's important for us to be able to get this one. It sets a tone going forward. We need to have that presence and feeling of putting a game away, especially against this ballclub. It's something we needed, and Howie came through for us."
Kendrick, whose swing carries power the other way, had a career-high 18 homers in 2011, falling to eight last year. He's a .292 career hitter whose three hits on Tuesday night and five in the series have his average at .297.
"I can't really explain it," he said, "but I've been seeing the ball good and getting some good swings in this series. Honestly, we've been playing good baseball the last week. We're scoring runs, and the pitching's getting there. We know the talent we have here. It's just a matter of time before this offense gets rolling.
"Right now, we're getting contributions from a lot of guys, and hopefully that will continue."
The Angels face Yu Darvish, brilliant in his first four starts, in the series finale. Michael Roth, one of the new names on the Angels' pitching staff, gets the start with Tommy Hanson on the bereavement list. If that looks like something of a mismatch, the Angels, suddenly feeling good about themselves, might have an argument.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.