- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2008

BALTIMORE | The Los Angeles Angels bolted to an early five-run lead, and All-Star Joe Saunders was in complete command through six innings against the last-place Baltimore Orioles.

Another easy win for the team with the best record in the major leagues?

Not quite.

Saunders never made it out of the seventh inning and closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a harrowing ninth before the Angels escaped with a 6-5 victory Friday night.

Juan Rivera and Casey Kotchman homered for the Angels, who led 5-0 after two innings but got a scare before securing their eighth win in nine games.

“We had to hold them off with everything we had,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said.

Saunders (13-5) allowed four runs, three earned, and six hits in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander from Springfield took a three-hitter and a 5-1 lead into the seventh but ran into trouble after retiring the first two batters.

Two hits and a walk loaded the bases for Jay Payton, who doubled in two runs. A passed ball by Jeff Mathis got Baltimore to 5-4 before Scot Shields struck out Brian Roberts with runners on the corners.

“I think Joe pitched a good ballgame all the way out. He just couldn’t close out the seventh,” Scioscia said.

“Yeah, it was tough for me in the last inning, bottom of the seventh,” Saunders said. “I was just trying to hold the lead and get us through as long as I could.”

After ending the seventh, Shields worked a perfect eighth.

“We know they would fight back once we got that early lead. They were one hit away from tying it up,” Shields said. “We were lucky enough we were able to pull it off.”

Rodriguez gave up Kevin Millar’s second home run of the game and a double to Brandon Fahey in the ninth, but retired Luke Scott on a grounder for his major league-leading 43rd save.

“We had the right guy up there at the end,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. “These guys battle all the time. You come back 5-0 against the best team in baseball, that ought to tell you something.”

Millar’s seventh career two-homer game, the second this season, wasn’t enough to prevent the Orioles from losing their fourth straight to fall a season-worst six games under .500 (48-54).

Brian Burres (7-7) allowed five runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings, the second-shortest start of his three-year career. The left-hander yielded two homers and permitted eight of 13 batters to reach base.

“I really didn’t do anything right today. I fell behind, and when I did throw strikes they were up in the zone,” Burres said. “I wasn’t consistent with any of my pitches. It was just a rough day to be out there. … I tried to make adjustments, but nothing seemed to really work.”

His brief outing continued a disturbing trend by Baltimore starters, who have failed to go at least six innings in seven straight games while compiling an 8.73 ERA.

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