ANAHEIM, Calif.-- The Blue Jays didn't have enough bargaining power to keep Kelvim Escobar in Toronto when he became a free agent after the 2003 season. The Los Angeles Angels did, and they've been reaping the benefits ever since.
Escobar recorded his career-high 15th victory, Garret Anderson homered and the Angels beat the Blue Jays 3-1 on Sunday to earn a split of the four-game series.
"He's found a home out here and he's taking advantage of it," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "One of the reasons they're at the top of the standings every year and have arguably one of the best pitching staffs in baseball is because of guys like him."
Escobar is 40-34 with a 3.43 ERA in four seasons with the Halos, and could have had a much better record if not for some horrible run support. The Angels are vying for their third division title since obtaining him.
"He's definitely one of the top pitchers in the game," Gibbons said. "He's got the big arm, to begin with. I mean, he can throw anything at any time. He's got such confidence in his split and his breaking ball, and he's got that plus fastball."
Escobar (15-6) was 14-11 with Toronto in 1999, his first full season in the majors. In his only season as a full-time closer, he saved 38 games in 2002 before returning to the rotation the following year -- which turned out to be his last with the Blue Jays.
"The front office knows how much I wanted to stay in Toronto. I didn't want to leave there," said Escobar, who is 4-3 with a tidy 1.84 ERA against his former team. "I loved the city so much and I had a lot of friends there. All I asked for was what I deserved at that point, but we were too far apart.
"They only were offering me two years and I felt like I could get three years in free agency," he added. "It's a business, and sometimes you've got to move on. It seems like I made the right move, and I'm happy to be here. It's such a good team, good front office, good fans -- the whole package."
Escobar won his fourth consecutive start, allowing a run and five hits over eight innings with five strikeouts and no walks. The right-hander was lifted after 109 pitches, and Francisco Rodriguez pitched a perfect ninth for his 33rd save in 37 chances.
"Kelvim was lights-out today with eight strong innings, and probably had enough to pitch the ninth if circumstances were a little bit different," manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's good to see that he held his stuff that deep into the game."
Dustin McGowan (8-8) allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings, striking out six and walking none. The loss was the right-hander's second to Escobar in a span of 11 days.
Escobar retired his first 12 batters before Vernon Wells led off the fifth with a broken-bat single and stole second. Center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., trying to position himself for a throw to third with Wells tagging up on a routine fly ball, dropped it for his fifth error of the season and Troy Glaus followed with a sacrifice fly.
Anderson opened the scoring in the fourth with his ninth homer, then doubled in the fourth and scored the Angels' second run on a single by Maicer Izturis. Los Angeles added a run in the seventh when Matthews singled, advanced on a wild pitch, stole third and continued home on catcher Gregg Zaun's throwing error.
The Angels and Seattle begin the first of two critical series against each other Monday night at Seattle with first place at stake in the AL West. John Lackey will oppose Miguel Batista in Game 1, Ervin Santana squares off against Jeff Weaver on Tuesday night and Jered Weaver hooks up with Felix Hernandez on Wednesday afternoon.
"I feel like people are sort of overhyping it," Matthews said. "I mean, we play them again here in September, so you guys can hype it up then. It's just another series. We're still going to continue to play the game that we play and do our thing."
The Angels lead the Mariners 8-4 in the season series, including two wins each by Lackey -- who hasn't allowed a run in 15 innings against them this season. Los Angeles has been alone in first place since May 9. Their 3-2 win over Cleveland that night ended a 1-5 skid and began a 32-11 stretch that put them a season-high eight games ahead of the pack.
"This next series isn't going to make or break either team," Scioscia said. "Obviously, for us to get through our division, you're going to have to beat Seattle. But it's not going to change the way we have to approach or go about our business."
Angels RF Reggie Willits ended the third inning with a sliding catch against John McDonald and dug up a huge divot that required immediate attention from a member of the grounds crew. ... The Blue Jays won four of their seven meetings with the Angels, capturing the season series for the fifth consecutive year (25-13). ... Matt Stairs pinch hit for McDonald in the seventh and grounded out, making him 2-for-20 lifetime against Escobar.