ANAHEIM – When the Angels signed journeyman infielder Russell Branyan back in late May, the general consensus was that he’d provide some much-needed pop to a team struggling to score runs and maybe – just maybe -- impact a few outcomes in the clutch.
He did exactly that Sunday, providing the game-winning two-run home run in a clutch situation to give the Angels a 3-1 win in the rubber match of a weekend set with the crosstown Los Angeles Dodgers.
Stepping to the plate with the score tied 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and Howie Kendrick on first, Branyan battled Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley to a 3-2 count and then deposited an outer-half changeup into the right-center seats for his first homer as an Angel and only his second of 2011.
“I did with it what I’m capable of doing,” a relieved Branyan said afterward. “It felt great to come through in an important situation.”
General manager Tony Reagins hinted at the time the Angels brought him in that Branyan might participate in a bit of a righty-lefty platoon at first base with rookie Mark Trumbo, but those plans were quickly scrapped when Branyan started his Angel career 2-for-20.
Now that he’s hitting again, well…
“That’s what Russell can do, and it’s nice to see him get a hold of one for us,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Sunday. “It’s important to have somebody that can drive the ball deep in your lineup, and he’s potentially a guy that can be very important to us if he can start to get into a groove.”
Forget a groove – hits of any type had been hard to come by for Branyan in the five weeks since he signed on with the Angels. The homer was only his eighth hit for the Angels in 43 at-bats, good for a not-so-sparkling .186 average.
But both Branyan and Scioscia cited the pinch-hit double he hit in last Saturday’s win over the Dodgers as evidence that he’d been starting to feel it a bit more at the plate. And, sure it’s a small sample size, but the 35-year-old Branyan is now 2-for-3 with a walk in his last four plate appearances.
In short, he’s starting to do what he was acquired to do.
“We got him for his big bat,” said infielder Howie Kendrick, who had one of the Angels’ other two hits on the night, Bobby Abreu producing the other. “We know what he can do – we faced him in Seattle and he had 31 jacks that one year, so he’s definitely he’s looking to go deep. We know how he plays the game and we know what we’re gonna get from him.
“You can swing and miss a lot, but that one time makes it worthwhile."
He’s struck out 13 times in those 43 at-bats as an Angel, a 30-percent clip that’s actually significantly better than his lifetime 38-percent strikeout ratio. But, in more important numbers, the Angels are 18-15 since acquiring Branyan on May 26 and are now tied with the Texas Rangers for first place in the AL West after Sunday’s win.
“I want to come through, I want to produce, but I haven’t been the swinging the bat the way I’d like to be,” Branyan said. “But to hit a homer today feels really good.
“It’s fun to be a part of this right now, us winning some ballgames.”