SEATTLE -- Just over two months ago, he was just another Joe fighting for a job in the major leagues.
What would Joe Saunders have said then if he'd been told that by June he'd be the AL's leader in wins?
"Ha! I wouldn't have believed you," Saunders said, chuckling over his good fortune and even better efficiency.
The Triple-A traveler last season allowed one earned run in seven innings to become the AL's first nine-game winner and Maicer Izturis drove in a season-high three runs as the Los Angeles Angels beat the Seattle Mariners 5-4 on Tuesday night.
"I don't know what's going on," Saunders said after he put Los Angeles a season-best 12 games over .500. "You always dream about winning every game, putting up every win you can. It's a nice roll to be on right now."
Saunders (9-2) allowed six hits and likely would have cruised with a 5-1 lead but for two errors in the fifth inning for the Angels, who scored more than four runs for the first time in 14 games. The resourceful AL West leaders have won 10 of those games.
The Angels scored all of their runs early off Erik Bedard (4-4). The man for whom Seattle traded five players to Baltimore in February was booed off the mound during the 19th loss in 26 games for the team with the AL's worst record.
Jose Arredondo pitched perfect eighth. Francisco Rodriguez struck out the side in the ninth for his 23rd save in 24 chances.
Saunders was in a spring training battle with Ervin Santana for the last spot in the rotation -- but then top starters Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey got hurt. Presto! Saunders and Santana have a combined 17 wins, including in the first two games over this series with a sunken Mariners team that was supposed to be their chief division rival but is instead 14½ games in the Angels' dust.
Saunders had four stints with Los Angeles last season while on a perpetual shuttle to and from Triple-A Salt Lake.
"I faced him last year. He was fairly young so it wasn't really intimidating," said Torii Hunter, the former Minnesota Twin who drove in Reggie Willits with a double in the first.
Now, he's perpetually good.
Using a sweeping curve and well-placed fastballs, he struck out five and walked one while lowering his ERA to 2.63. Saunders, who has yet to pitch an entire season in the major leagues, has allowed one or no earned runs in six of 12 starts this season.
Not bad for a $425,000 salary.
"Right now, he's one of the best left-handers in the game," Hunter said, beaming as usual.
That was supposed to be Bedard. But the $7 million man, who had asked the Mariners for an extra day of rest following his two-hit blanking of Boston over seven innings May 28, allowed seven hits and five runs in just 3 1/3 innings. It was his second-shortest start of the season. He walked three and struck out one.
Izturis' two-run single in the second scored Casey Kotchman to make it 3-0. In the fourth, Bedard allowed a leadoff double to Robb Quinlan and walked No. 9 hitter Jeff Mathis for the second time. Willits sacrificed them to second and third, and Izturis and Kendrick followed with consecutive RBI singles to make it 5-0 and end Bedard's night.
Bedard said nothing and barely looked at John McLaren as his manager silently took the ball from him and waited for R.A. Dickey to arrive from the bullpen.
"I didn't think he had his best stuff. And I just felt like we couldn't give up any more runs," McLaren said.
Bedard sounded OK with that.
"He didn't want it to get out of hand," he said, amid a series of one-word answers.
Dickey pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and received a standing ovation from the home crowd after he finished the eighth. The knuckleballer has been scoreless in 11 innings of long relief on Seattle's homestand.
"It felt like I'd had a couple of beers. The ball was looking all crazy," Hunter said.
McLaren said Dickey was "spectacular" and added that the Mariners have "definitely" been thinking about inserting Dickey into their struggling rotation.
The Angels' two errors led to three unearned runs, after they had made just 24 errors in 59 games. But Saunders ended what essentially was Seattle's last scoring chance by striking out Adrian Beltre on a curveball that bounced in front of the mound with two men on.
Angels OF Vladimir Guerrero missed his second consecutive game with hyperflexion in his right knee, the result of sliding into a base Sunday. Manager Mike Scioscia said Guerrero was "much better" and may return Wednesday. If not then, almost certainly Friday, after an off day. ... Seattle OF Ichiro Suzuki was 1-for-4 with an infield single, something he's had relatively few of this season while batting just .287 this season. The perennial All-Star's previous low entering June was .317.