Rivera, Kotchman back Saunders for Angels' eighth win in nine games

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The Los Angeles Angels bolted to an early five-run lead, and All-Star Joe Saunders was in complete command through six innings against the last-place Baltimore Orioles.

Another easy win for the team with the best record in the major leagues?

Not quite.

Saunders never made it out of the seventh inning and closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a harrowing ninth before the Angels escaped with a 6-5 victory Friday night.

Juan Rivera and Casey Kotchman homered for the Angels, who led 5-0 after two innings but got a scare before securing their eighth win in nine games.

"We had to hold them off with everything we had," Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said.

Saunders (13-5) allowed four runs, three earned, and six hits in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander took a three-hitter and a 5-1 lead into the seventh but ran into trouble after retiring the first two batters.

Two hits and a walk loaded the bases for Jay Payton, who doubled in two runs. A passed ball by Jeff Mathis got Baltimore to 5-4 before Scot Shields struck out Brian Roberts with runners on the corners.

"I think Joe pitched a good ballgame all the way out. He just couldn't close out the seventh," Scioscia said.

"Yeah, it was tough for me in the last inning, bottom of the seventh," Saunders said. "I was just trying to hold the lead and get us through as long as I could."

After ending the seventh, Shields worked a perfect eighth.

"We know they would fight back once we got that early lead. They were one hit away from tying it up," Shields said. "We were lucky enough we were able to pull it off."

Rodriguez gave up Kevin Millar's second home run of the game and a double to Brandon Fahey in the ninth, but retired Luke Scott on a grounder for his major league-leading 43rd save.

"We had the right guy up there at the end," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "These guys battle all the time. You come back 5-0 against the best team in baseball, that ought to tell you something."

Millar's seventh career two-homer game, the second this season, wasn't enough to prevent the Orioles from losing their fourth straight to fall a season-worst six games under .500 (48-54).

Brian Burres (7-7) allowed five runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings, the second-shortest start of his three-year career. The left-hander yielded two homers and permitted eight of 13 batters to reach base.

"I really didn't do anything right today. I fell behind, and when I did throw strikes they were up in the zone," Burres said. "I wasn't consistent with any of my pitches. It was just a rough day to be out there. ... I tried to make adjustments, but nothing seemed to really work."

His brief outing continued a disturbing trend by Baltimore starters, who have failed to go at least six innings in seven straight games while compiling an 8.73 ERA.

Relievers Dennis Sarfate and Alberto Castillo followed with 5 1/3 innings of hitless relief, but Chad Bradford gave up two hits in the eighth, including an RBI single by Garret Anderson that made it 6-4.

"I think Garret's hit was big at the time," Scioscia said, "and ended up being bigger as the game went on."

Back after missing two games on bereavement leave, Torii Hunter hit a two-out, two-run double to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead in the first. It was the 42nd time the Orioles have been scored upon in the opening inning.

Rivera led off the second with his fourth home run, Chone Figgins got a one-out single and Kotchman followed with a drive over the scoreboard in right. Burres was lifted two batters later.

"He pitched up and it looked like they knew what was coming. They were very aggressive and he didn't miss too many barrels," Trembley said of Burres. "Whatever he threw, they whacked it."

Millar's homer in the third barely cleared the outstretched glove of Anderson and landed in the front row of the seats in left. The hit raised his career numbers against Saunders to 6-for-8 with two homers and five RBIs; Millar later grounded out and walked against the Angels' starter.

Game notes
To make room for Hunter on the roster, the Angels optioned RHP Jason Bulger to Triple-A Salt Lake. ... Baltimore has been outscored 75-51 in the first inning. ... Los Angeles is 43-5 when scoring first. ... Burres has gone 10 straight games without pitching more than 6 1/3 innings.