Smith, Street form lockdown duo at back end of 'pen

Scioscia says pair's poise key to success

Smith, Street form lockdown duo at back end of 'pen

SEATTLE -- They've really only known each other for nine months, but Joe Smith and Huston Street have become inseparable, bonded by the similarity of their jobs and the likeness in their demeanors -- laid back off the field, ruthless competitors on it.

"I guarantee you both of them could probably take the majority of us in a pickup basketball game," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said of the Angels' setup man and closer. "They just compete. Whatever it is, darts, H-O-R-S-E, cards. It's what they do."

The Angels beat the Mariners, 5-3, at Safeco Field on Wednesday night, taking two of three and winning a season-opening series for the first time since 2008. And it was Smith and Street who recorded the final six outs, the same script that took the Angels to another level down the stretch last season and one that can be a real difference-maker for them in 2015.

The Angels haven't started a season with the eighth and ninth inning locked down like this for about five years, per Mike Scioscia's own estimation.

And he doesn't take it for granted.

"I don't think it's a luxury," the Angels' manager said. "I think it's essential to get where you want to be. It's pretty evident the years we've struggled we haven't been able to hold leads at the rate we need to. With these two guys we have a really good chance to hold leads at the rate that we should, and that's going to really give us the opportunity to do the things we want to do as a team."

With superb command, unique deception and very little velocity, Smith and Street have combined to post a 2.36 ERA in 510 appearances over the last four years. Smith signed a three-year, $15 million deal heading into the 2014 season; Street came over from the Padres in a five-player trade last July.

They could have faltered in the series finale, but they remained poised.

Smith started the eighth by giving up a single to Dustin Ackley and a double to Robinson Cano, putting the tying run in scoring position with none out. But he struck out Nelson Cruz, intentionally walked Kyle Seager, struck out Rickie Weeks and got Logan Morrison to fly out, preserving a two-run lead.

"I couldn't throw the ball better than I was," Smith said. "I keep throwing it down there, eventually the odds will turn in my favor."

Street quickly recorded the first two outs in the ninth, fell behind 3-1 to Mariners leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, got his sinker in for a strike and induced a game-ending flyout on a slider, a second straight 1-2-3 ninth inning.

"If you look at the top setup men and top closers in baseball," Scioscia said, "there is a poise to them."

That poise from Smith and Street -- not to mention their overall effectiveness against opposing hitters -- has shortened games for Scioscia, while giving him more freedom in that crucial seventh inning. It was evident on Wednesday, when the Angels' manager went to lefty Jose Alvarez against Morrison, used righty Mike Morin against the next three batters and would have used lefty Cesar Ramos against Ackley and Cano if the inning hadn't ended.

Smith and Street made all of that possible.

"The whole thing goes in your favor," Scioscia said. "That's classic shortening of the game, and that what we've been able to do."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.