Aybar scores three times as Angels win first game of doubleheader

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter on the disabled list and cleanup hitter Juan Rivera dealing with a tight hamstring, Erick Aybar has gotten plenty of chances.

Batting second, fifth, ninth -- it hasn't mattered. Aybar keeps coming through.

Aybar created problems with his bat and on the bases, and Ervin Santana scuffled through six innings to help the Los Angeles Angels beat the Kansas City Royals 8-5 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Aybar had three hits, scored three runs and drove in another, lifting his season average to .306 -- 44 points higher than his career mark. He's been even better since the injuries struck, hitting .458 (22-for-48) this month.

"He's very quietly putting his game together the way we know he can," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "On the offensive side, as he's gotten comfortable as the season has moved on, he's done a great job. His versatility has been important as we've had to get creative with some lineups."

Gary Matthews Jr. and Reggie Willits drove in two runs each and Kendry Morales had two hits to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 19 games for Los Angeles, which has won seven of eight.

The Royals dropped their seventh straight, thanks to another shaky outing by Sidney Ponson (1-6) and more problems with their bullpen. Billy Butler hit a two-run homer and Jose Guillen drove in two for Kansas City, which dropped to a season-worst 18 games under .500.

"We battled back and scored some runs, scored more than our average, that's a positive," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "We've got to keep the opposition off the board."

Coming off a 16-win season, Santana has missed 52 games in two stints on the DL this year and there have been concerns about a drop in velocity. The right-hander showed signs that he might be coming around in his last start, limiting Oakland to three hits in eight innings to break a three-game losing streak.

Santana (3-5) was hurt by a bad break in the second inning, when Alex Gordon's chopper hit his foot and caromed off second base past Aybar at short, allowing Mark Teahen to score. Bad pitches cost him later, when Guillen lined a two-run single in third inning and Butler lifted a two-run homer just over the wall in the fifth to put the Royals up 5-4.

The offense came to Santana's rescue, giving him the lead back and he lasted one more inning, giving up five runs and eight hits with seven strikeouts.

"He didn't quite have the same stuff as when he was pitching in Oakland, but he pitched well enough to give us a chance to win," Scioscia said.

Brian Fuentes pitched the ninth for his majors-best 29th save in 32 chances.

Ponson had trouble from the start.

The right-hander gave up three runs in the first on run-scoring singles by Matthews and Willits sandwiched around Jeff Mathis' perfectly-dropped squeeze. Another run came in the third inning, when Maicer Izturis scored on a wild pitch that hit the backstop in the air and sailed all the way back to Ponson.

Kansas City rallied to go up 5-4 in the sixth inning, but Mike Napoli hit Ponson's second pitch in the bottom half off a table in the Royals Hall of Fame in left for his 12th homer. Aybar then singled and Ponson was done after giving up six runs and eight hits in his first start since coming off the DL with a sore elbow.

"They gave me a lead to pitch into the sixth. No excuses. I didn't pitch good," Ponson said.

Ron Mahay replaced Ponson and walked three batters, setting up Willits' sacrifice fly to give the Angels the lead. Roman Colon wasn't much better in the seventh, giving up a run-scoring double to Aybar and an RBI single by Matthews that put Los Angeles up 8-5.

Game notes
The Angels' last doubleheader was Aug. 17, 2007, against Boston. ... Butler's homer was his ninth. ... Los Angeles RF Bobby Abreu reached 20 stolen bases for the 11th straight season when he swiped second in the eighth inning.