ANAHEIM, Calif. — Gary Matthews Jr. and Howie Kendrick both hit three-run homers in the Angels’ latest comeback win. By next week, both might be back on Los Angeles’ bench.
Such is the prodigious offensive depth of the AL West leaders, who keep finding big hits in the most improbable places.
Matthews put the Angels ahead in the sixth, Kendrick added another homer in the seventh, and Los Angeles finished a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays with a 10-5 victory Wednesday.
“The depth on this team has always been the key,” Matthews said. “You’re going to have injuries, but the biggest difference with us is that we can plug in guys who can play for a week or two weeks.”
Matthews’ playing time seems likely to decrease if injured outfielder Torii Hunter returns to the Angels as planned this weekend, but the veteran outfielder is batting .327 over the last 16 games. Kendrick has filled in capably at second base, raising his batting average 42 points in 5½ weeks since his midseason demotion to the minors.
And they’re both comfortable essentially being spare parts in the Angels’ offense, which scored 24 runs against the Rays to remain neck-and-neck with the Yankees for the majors’ scoring lead.
“We have guys who have been All-Stars who aren’t starting here,” Matthews said. “When you’re trying to win a championship, you need players like that.”
Chone Figgins had three hits and scored the first run in a five-run seventh for the Angels, who improved to a season-best 24 games over .500 while knocking off the defending AL champion Rays, who have won just six times in their last 40 games at Angel Stadium.
Carlos Pena hit two homers for the Rays, who lost five times on their six-game West Coast trip. Pat Burrell added an eighth-inning shot as Tampa Bay was swept for the third time this season.
The Rays are 18 games above .500 at Tropicana Field and 10 games below .500 away from the Bay.
“We have to play better on the road,” said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, whose club opens a nine-game homestand Friday against Toronto. “We go home and we get ourselves well, then we go away and we get sick again. We’ve got to figure that out.”
Matthews’ homer off reliever Grant Balfour (4-2) turned a deficit into a one-run lead, and the Angels piled on the next inning.
After Kendry Morales and Tampa Bay reliever Randy Choate faced off in a 12-pitch at-bat with the bases loaded, Morales finally drove in a run with a grounder to shortstop, where Jason Bartlett’s errant throw allowed a second run to score.
“It was a terrible play,” Bartlett said. “I think it was just a matter of me trying to make too perfect of a throw trying to get him.”
One batter later, Kendrick’s first homer of the month landed in the Angels’ bullpen.
Jason Bulger (5-1) earned the win by escaping a sixth-inning jam.
Trevor Bell gave up nine hits and four runs over 5 1-3 innings in his major league debut for the Angels, and fellow rookie starter Jeff Niemann gave up seven hits and four runs in his shortest start since July 4.
After Pena’s 30th homer drove in the Rays’ first two runs in the fourth, Los Angeles tied it when Carl Crawford and Bartlett both lost Mike Napoli’s popup in the sun, allowing Morales to score from first base when it dropped.
Pena put a solo shot deep into the center field stands leading off the sixth, but after Niemann gave up two singles in the inning, Matthews connected for his third homer of the season.
“I didn’t think it was that bad of a pitch, but I definitely didn’t bury it where I needed to,” Balfour said. “It was a tough series and a tough road trip for us, but we’ve got to keep on playing. We’ve still got another 40-something games to play, and we’ve got to play them all hard.”
Bell, a North Hollywood native and the Angels’ first-round pick in 2005, came up from Triple-A Salt Lake to fill injured Joe Saunders’ rotation spot.
“I’ve heard you make small mistakes (in the big leagues) and they capitalize on them, and they definitely did that,” Bell said. “But just talking to the veteran guys, they said the game is no different up here. Just more people and better speakers.”
NOTES: Angels OF Bobby Abreu, the AL player of the month for July, went 0 for 5 to wrap up a 2-for-22 homestand. … Bell is the fifth rookie pitcher to start for the Angels this season. … Pena had the 15th multihomer game of his career. … Balfour had given up only two homers in his first 52 2-3 innings this season.