ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Angels outfielder Torii Hunter hadn't started a game in the second spot in the batting order in 12 seasons.
Manager Mike Scioscia felt compelled to try something - anything - to get the slumping All-Star and the rest of the team out of a frustrating dry spell.
Hunter was 2 for 5 on Wednesday night, a double and a single - both with no one in scoring position.
But when it mattered in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, he beat a slider from James Shields into the ground and shortstop Reid Brignac turned it into an inning-ending double play.
Brignac also homered against Jered Weaver and drove in the go-ahead run with a safety-squeeze bunt in the 10th, helping the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Angels 4-3 and complete their first three-game sweep in Anaheim.
The Angels lost their fifth straight game, equaling their longest skid this season, and slipped a season-worst 5 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West.
``It sounds like a broken record - Weave pitched well enough to win,' Scioscia said. ``We need to get our act together on the offensive side. There are some holes in our lineup right now - some guys who are struggling, some youth in there. This is about on-field chemistry and we need to find it. Until we do find it, it's going to be a rough go.'
The Angels haven't scored more than three runs in any of their past eight games since May 30, when they rallied from a five-run deficit at Kansas City to win 10-8.
But Scioscia found no solace in the fact that the 26-36 Royals were coming to Anaheim on Friday night to begin a three-game series
``It doesn't matter who's coming in next,' Scioscia said. ``It doesn't matter if it's (Triple-A) Salt Lake coming in. It doesn't matter if it's (Double-A) Altoona coming in. It doesn't matter if it's (rookie-level) Orem. We've got to play better baseball. That's the bottom line.'
This was the first time Hunter started a game in the two-hole since Sept. 18, 1999, with Minnesota.
``If me doing that is going to help the team win, that's all that matters - because I need a ring before I get out of this game. The curtain is closing, man,' Hunter said. ``I mean, me hitting second is out of the ordinary, but maybe something different will work. And if it does, we'll stick with it and ride it out.'
Rays starter James Shields took a six-hit shutout into the eighth inning, departing after 101 pitches with the bases loaded and none out. Bobby Abreu, batting cleanup for the first time this season, drove Cesar Ramos' second pitch to right field, clearing the bases and taking Weaver off the hook.
Abreu made a bid for a two-run walkoff homer in the 10th, but center fielder B.J. Upton caught the ball against the fence for the second out of the inning.
``I didn't think it would carry that far,' Upton said. ``We were in a 'no-doubles' situation out there. I kind of felt the warning track, but I didn't know exactly where the wall was. So I just had to jump a little bit for it and came down against the wall.'
Weaver gave up three runs and six hits in 7 2-3 innings, walked one and struck out five. The right-hander remained 1-4 in eight starts after winning his first six of the season. He slammed his glove against the bench after Ben Zobrist chased him with an RBI triple on his 121st pitch to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.
``The whole night was a little frustrating,' said Weaver, who is 3 2-3 innings shy of 1,000 for his career. ``We get some opportunities and don't come through. But all you can do is go out there and try to keep your team in the game, and I felt I did that for the most part. I like to win. I'm a competitor. It's tough. We just have to stay levelheaded about it.'
Weaver, who had allowed only two home runs over his previous nine starts, threw a 1-1 pitch to Brignac that ended up in the first row of the lower seats in the right field corner with two out in the third. It was the 10th homer in 524 career at_bats for the Rays' No. 9 hitter, and his first since Sept. 18 against the Angels' Joel Pineiro.
Rays manager Joe Maddon used two pinch-hitters to start the winning rally against Fernando Rodney (2-3). John Jaso walked and Evan Longoria reached on an infield hit past the mound while batting for Kelly Shoppach. Jaso stole third and scored on Brignac's bunt up the first base line.
Juan Cruz (3-0) pitched a perfect ninth to get the victory and Kyle Farnsworth got three outs for his 13th save in 14 attempts.
The Rays swept a three-game series on the road for the third time this season. The other two were against the Twins and Orioles, who are last in their respective divisions. Only one other time in their history have they swept a three-game set in the state of California - June 2004 at San Diego.
Shields allowed three runs and seven hits in seven-plus innings, walked three and struck out eight.
Notes: Just 2 1/2 weeks after attending the graduation of his son Matthew from Notre Dame, Scioscia was beaming with pride before the game after the Halos tabbed the 21-year-old C/1B in the 45th round (1,365th pick) of the draft. Scioscia was the 19th overall pick in the 1976 draft, and ended up catching more games than anyone in that franchise's history. ... Longoria, who grew up about 20 miles north of Angel Stadium in Downey, did not start in any of the three games in this series because of stomach flu that has caused him to lose 7 pounds. His .426 career average at the Big A is his highest at any AL ballpark (20 for 47).
The Associated Press News Service
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