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WILLITS BIG HIT FOR ANGELS ROOKIE GETS FIRST START, GETS GAME-WINNING RBI IN 10TH ANGELS 4, KANSAS CITY 3 (10).

Byline: DOUG PADILLA Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For one day anyway, Reggie Willits supplied that impact bat the Angels have been so desperate to add.

Making the first start of his career and doing it in front of his immediate family, Willits dazzled with not only his first major-league hit and stolen base, he drove home the game-winner on a 10th-inning single for a 4-3 Angels victory over the Kansas City Royals.

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak that had followed a season-high eight-game win streak. The Angels are now 14-4 this month and remained two games behind the division-leading Oakland Athletics.

They are also 4-3 against the Royals this season but have not had an easy time with a team that is 29games below .500.

``I think there is some importance of playing better baseball,'' winner Scot Shields said of Saturday's victory. ``We know we're going to lose some games, that's going to happen, but the way we lost (the last two) that was kind of ugly out there. Those were the ugliest games I've seen in a while.''

The start was a surprise for Willits, who was just recalled Wednesday. He spent eight days on the major-league roster in April but appeared in just two games and did not have an at-bat.

It didn't take long for the rookie to contribute. He led off the game with a single and scored on Maicer Izturis' double. Izturis later scored on a groundout by Vladimir Guerrero.

The 2-0 Angels lead was short-lived, though, as Kelvim Escobar gave up three first-inning runs in his first start since July 6.

Escobar, who had been on the disabled list because of elbow tendinitis, was admittedly tentative in his return to the mound.

``It's been a couple of weeks since I had been out there and some pitches were up in the zone,'' he said.

``I don't think I was focused on making pitches; I think I was testing my elbow. That's normal. After that I just put everything behind me and made an adjustment and made better pitches.''

He gave up four more hits and two walks the rest of the way but no runs as he allowed only one runner to advance as far as third base. He gave up a total of nine hits in his seven innings of work with three strikeouts, and threw 98 pitches after a 20-pitch opening inning.

``He really wasn't getting his fastball in good spots and he was getting behind some guys,'' manager Mike Scioscia said of Escobar's first inning.

``They were squaring balls up in the first inning, but after that he did a good job of bringing his best stuff into the game. He had a little blister that seems to be coming and going but he pitched well with it.''

After the game, Escobar had the tip of his right middle finger wrapped in a bandage but didn't expect it to affect his next start.

Escobar held off the Royals long enough for the Angels' offense to break through for a tie. Kendry Morales received a one-out walk in the seventh, went to third on a ground-rule double by Adam Kennedy and scored on a wild pitch.

Shields held down the Royals in the eighth and ninth innings, although he gave the team a scare when the speedy Joey Gathright led off the ninth with a single and later stole second.

But Gathright could not advance, and Willits' 10th-inning RBI set Shields up for the victory.

Francisco Rodriguez nailed down his 24th save despite giving up two walks.

Willits didn't know he was in the starting lineup until a few hours before the game. He arrived at the ballpark, went through his daily cardio routine and then received word he would be in center field and leading off as Chone Figgins was given a rest.

``To come in and not have an idea (about the start) helped me to relax,'' Willits said.

His first-inning single relaxed him even further, as did a quick flyball to center by the second Royals' hitter of the night, Mark Grudzielanek.

Figgins was eventually called upon to lead off the 10th inning as a pinch hitter and walked in front of Willits. Figgins stole second and went to third when the throw from catcher Paul Phillips bounced into center field.

Willits was looking to hit something up the middle but ended up with a single to left to bring home the run.

``I was trying to give Figgy an opportunity to steal a base right there by squaring around (to bunt) and holding that catcher back a little bit,''

Willits said. ``We were fortunate he did steal it and ended up on third. I just tried to relax and get that run home.''

doug.padilla@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2731

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

Reggie Willits, making his first career start fo the Angels, hits a RBI single to drive in Chone Figgins from third in the 10th inning against Kansas City on Saturday. The Angels wne ton to defeat the Royals.

Ed Zurga/Associated Press

Box:

ANGELS at KANSAS CITY

- Doug Padilla
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Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 23, 2006
Words:860
Previous Article:DODGERS NOTEBOOK: COLLETTI BACK ON THE FENCE.
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