Angels' fire may have returned just in time

Angels' fire may have returned just in time

ANAHEIM -- Erick Aybar wanted to wear his socks high for Wednesday night's series finale against the Dodgers, so he told Albert Pujols to do it, and Pujols told Mike Trout to do it, because it's baseball, and superstition is prevalent, and the Angels needed something -- anything -- to keep their faint postseason hopes alive.

"Sometimes you just have to change the flavor, man," Pujols said, a big smile on his face after his eighth-inning single gave the Angels a 3-2 win over the Dodgers. "Just try to do something to turn things around, because you never know."

"You never know."

That's what the Angels cling to these days, what they fall back on to keep their edge. This is where they are. Their 70th win -- which snapped an unprecedented eight-game losing streak to the Dodgers -- allowed them to gain a game on the Rangers. But they're still 3 1/2 out of the second American League Wild Card spot, with the Twins also in front, and the Halos only have 23 games remaining.

Eighteen days ago, during the team meeting that followed a demoralizing sweep to the Blue Jays, Pujols once again brought up his 2011 Cardinals, who won 16 of their last 21 regular-season games to sneak into the playoffs and ultimately win it all.

"For us, there's no tomorrow," Pujols said. "That's how we have to look at it this whole month."

Garrett Richards' first pitch on Wednesday, to Dodgers leadoff man du jour Scott Schebler, went out for a home run. But he retired 19 of his next 24 batters, 11 on strikeouts, and pitched into the eighth inning. After Richards' only other mistake of the night -- a two-strike slider that stayed up and was poked to left field for a game-tying RBI double by Chase Utley -- the Angels came right back.

Kole Calhoun led off the bottom of the eighth with a line drive to right, a double that allowed him to advance to third on an error. And after Trout struck out, Pujols stayed back just long enough on a 1-0 slider from Luis Avilan and managed a grounder up the middle, past a drawn-in infield.

It was Pujols' 17th RBI in the last 23 games, and it kept the Angels breathing.

"This is something that we can build off," Richards said. "We've got Houston coming in, and we know how important those games are."

They all are, really, especially the three-game showdown with the first-place Astros that opens on Friday in Anaheim. The Angels followed a stretch of 17 wins in 20 games by losing 26 of 37 from July 23-Aug. 31. Now they must thrive against a schedule that has them playing four of their last seven series against teams well above .500.

"If it's meant to be for us, we're going to be there in the playoffs," Pujols said, his team 5 1/5 back of Houston. "But one thing that I can tell you is that those 35 guys that are active now, in this roster, are going to do the best that they can to squeeze ourselves in."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.