ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Cleveland Indians made their first visit this season to Angel Stadium and found an old friend in the closer’s role for the other team — Joe Smith.
The right-hander, who spent the previous five seasons with the Indians, got three outs in the ninth inning to preserve a 6-3 victory for Los Angeles on Monday night for his first save with the Angels. His role changed after a series of poor outings by Ernesto Frieri.
“I don’t think your attitude changes,” Smith said. “I mean, if you’re coming on in the seventh or eighth inning, the goal is the same: get out of the inning with a zero and hand the ball off to the next guy. Now, the goal is to get out of the inning with a zero and slap hands. It doesn’t matter what inning I’m throwing. I pitch people the same.”
Smith retired Carlos Santana on a foul pop behind the plate, then gave up a single to pinch-hitter David Murphy before retiring Michael Brantley on a fielder’s choice grounder and Asdrubal Cabrera on a line drove to center field.
“When he’s on your team, he’s easy to root for,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I’m one of his biggest fans — and I only had the opportunity to have him for one year. For the guys who were around him longer than that, I can see why they like him so much. He’s a pro’s pro. I remember a conversation I had with Smitty when he was going through free agency, and I remember telling him flat out: ‘We want you back so bad. But if we don’t get you back, I hope you break the bank.”
Smith, who signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract in November, was the setup man last year for the Tribe and got three saves along the way.
“Joe could be successful anywhere they put him,” Francona said.
Fernando Salas (2-0) pitched a hitless eighth inning and got credit for the victory after the Angels broke a 3-all tie in the bottom half with an RBI single by Mike Trout and a two-run triple by Raul Ibanez against Justin Masterson (0-1).
Masterson gave up six runs and seven hits in 7 1-3 innings after getting a no-decision in each of his first five starts. The right-hander hasn’t posted a victory since beating the Angels 3-1 last Aug. 21 at the “Big A.”
Nick Swisher misplayed J.B. Shuck’s leadoff grounder to first base in the eighth for an error, and Erick Aybar bunted Shuck to second before Trout singled to left on a full-count pitch to snap a 3-all tie. Albert Pujols was walked intentionally in front of Ibanez, who capped the scoring with his triple to right-center on Masterson’s 113th and final pitch.
Tyler Skaggs allowed three runs and four hits in seven innings and struck out six. The left-hander, staked to a 1-0 lead on Pujols’ RBI groundout in the first, retired his first 10 batters before giving up a double by Swisher, a walk to Jason Kipnis and Santana’s second homer of the season into the left field bullpen.
“Tyler hung a curveball to Santana, but other than that, he threw the ball awesome,” Smith said. “If our starters go seven and give up three every time, that’s great. Keep it rolling. It only makes it easier on us — especially with this offense.”
Santana, the Indians’ switch-hitting third baseman, came in batting .122 over his first 24 games and was 3 for 22 with men in scoring position. But Francona said before the game that he wasn’t ready to drop Santana out of the cleanup spot, where he has been in every game he’s played.
The Angels tied it in the fifth on a two-out, two-run double down the right field line by Aybar after Masterson issued a leadoff walk to Ian Stewart and a single by David Freese. Stewart started at third base while Freese was the designated hitter on his 31st birthday.
The Indians, who had just gotten swept in a series at San Francisco, were 2 for 20 with runners in scoring position during that three-game set and totaled just five runs — while their 4-5-6 hitters were a combined 0 for 29.
NOTES: The Angels’ flight from New York didn’t get in until 5:15 a.m. local time after a 3-2 loss at Yankee Stadium on Sunday that ended their 4-5 road trip. “I wish they played 20 innings,” Francona said. ... Angels LF Josh Hamilton had his cast taken off Monday and is wearing a splint, the next step toward beginning his strength exercises and resuming baseball activities.