DENVER -- Everything is starting to click again for the Angels, just like it did for so much of their dominant 2014 season. When their pitching needs some wiggle room, the offense mashes. When the offense struggles, their pitching backs them up. And when it all evens out, Johnny Giavotella comes to bat, rolls a grounder through the left side, smashes his hands together and hurls a fist toward his own dugout.
The Angels have won five in a row and nine of their last 10, their latest triumph coming on Giavotella's two-out, bases-loaded, ninth-inning single at Coors Field. They're now a season-best eight games above .500 and a mere 1 1/2 games back of the first-place Astros, who held a five-game lead as recently as five days ago.
"We're not looking at the standings at all," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Our challenge is in-house. We have to keep getting better as a team. I think the focus is good; there's really not a lot of distractions there. We've had a lot happen the last couple weeks, and these guys keep playing baseball. That's what we're going to focus on."
The Angels spent most of the year living and dying by their pitching staff while waiting for their offense to come around, then scored 43 runs over their previous four games. On Wednesday night, after first pitch was delayed by more than two hours, they got two prodigious solo homers from Mike Trout and 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball from Matt Shoemaker, marking the 10th time in the last 11 games that an Angels starter had given up two runs or less.
In the top of the ninth, Chris Iannetta laced a double down the left-field line off Rockies closer John Axford, putting runners on second and third with one out. After Daniel Robertson was intentionally walked and pinch-hitter Efren Navarro struck out, Giavotella came up -- with 19 hits in 44 at-bats during late-and-close situations this season.
With the count 2-2, Giavotella looked for a fastball, quickly identified a breaking ball coming out of Axford's hand, stayed back and snuck a grounder past a diving Troy Tulowitzki to win the game.
They don't call him "Johnny Drama" for nothing.
"I expect that out of myself," Giavotella said of getting big hits late. "I expect to come through for the team. I like to help the team out any way that I can. For me to come up in those situations is what I live for. I want to be up there."
The Angels have had a trying season off the field. They spent most of the year with the Josh Hamilton fiasco in the background, then watched their general manager, Jerry Dipoto, resign after a long-standing feud with Scioscia. But here they are, four days away from the All-Star break and starting to morph into the team they've been waiting for.
"I don't think we're going to score 13 runs every game, but we won a tight game in a tough ballpark," Street said. "We just have to keep grinding. That's what we've been so good at, just ad nauseam repeating, one day at a time. Trust ourselves. 'It'll come, it'll come.' And it's starting to come. We can't get too excited about that, either."