ANAHEIM -- Cheers broke out from the closed-off dining area of the Angels' clubhouse late Tuesday night, moments after their 8-1 victory over the A's and seconds after the Astros lost to the Mariners at Safeco Field, a turn of events that gave the Angels a half-game lead for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
The Angels have won a season-high-tying seven in a row, have made up four games on the Astros in 13 days -- and, yes, they're scoreboard watching.
After finishing off this series against the A's on Wednesday, the Angels finish the regular season with four games against a Rangers team that is two games ahead of them in the AL West. They control their own destiny the rest of the way.
"If we go out there and win games, we make it tougher on other guys -- and that's what we're going to try to do the next five games," Albert Pujols said. "One game at a time, one pitch at a time, make one play at a time, and take advantage of the mistakes. Hopefully we can continue to do that. We're playing great baseball, our fans are supporting us -- but you can't think ahead of yourself."
Backed by a dominant fill-in start by Nick Tropeano and a collective effort by the offense, which notched 14 hits and scored seven two-out runs, the Angels won their first game by more than four runs since Sept. 6. They've won 18 of 26 in September -- immediately after a back-breaking, 19-loss August -- and now lead the second AL Wild Card spot for the first time since Aug. 21.
The A's (65-92) have lost nine of their last 10 games.
The Angels (83-74) are playing their best baseball at the perfect time.
"We know the magnitude of each game from here on out, and we're just going out and playing the best baseball we can possibly play," second baseman Johnny Giavotella said. "We're laying it out on the field every game, we're in the top step, rooting for one another, and I think it's really helping our cause."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Spot star: Starting in place of Matt Shoemaker, who's nursing stiffness in his right forearm, Tropeano dominated, giving up only a Max Muncy solo homer in 6 2/3 innings. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed only three other baserunners and struck out 11, tying Garrett Richards for the most by an Angels starter this season. Tropeano is lined up to start the regular-season finale from Arlington, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia previously said Richards would probably start if the team needs to win to get in the playoffs.
"I'm going to do anything I can to help the team win," Tropeano said. "If that's out of the bullpen, if that's in the rotation -- whatever it takes. We're in a playoff race. Every game counts, and we're just taking it a game at a time."
Two-out troubles: A's right-hander Chris Bassitt, making his second start following his return from a minor shoulder injury, was rocked for six runs in just 3 2/3 innings, with seven of his eight hits allowed coming with two outs. The righty made quick work of his first two batters before offering up three consecutive hits to Mike Trout, Pujols and David Murphy that resulted in two runs. Pujols reached base again in his next at-bat, leading off the fourth with a single, and Bassitt proceeded to retire each of his next two batters before finding trouble again, allowing four straight hits ahead of his departure.
"His stuff was good today, just his command wasn't great," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's still a little rusty on where he's throwing the ball, but I looked up and saw a 97 [mph] and some 96's and 95's and there was good movement to it. I think he's still working himself back as far as command goes."
Said Bassitt: "I've kind of fallen in that trap where I feel so good I'm just going out there throwing instead of pitching. Just stupid, honestly. I feel way too good to be doing what I'm doing."
Showing off the wheels: Pujols has been nursing severe pain in his right foot for about a month, but it didn't seem like it Tuesday night. Pujols, relegated to strictly starting at designated hitter, legged out a double and scored from second on a Murphy single in the first. In the fourth, he beat out an infield single, stole his fifth base, moved to third on a groundout and scored on David Freese's single. In the fifth, Pujols lined a single, moved to second on a walk and scored from second on another RBI single by Freese.
Despite the aggressive baserunning, Pujols said postgame that his right foot isn't necessarily feeling much better.
"He's moving well," Scioscia said. "He got down the line well, stole a base, scored on a base hit from right field off Josh Reddick, which is not an easy thing to do. Albert's a really intelligent baserunner, and now that he's moving a little bit better, you can see that he can create some things on the basepaths."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Trout scored his 100th run in the first after ripping a double to left field and coming around on Pujols' ensuing double. With that, Trout has scored at least 100 runs in each of his four full seasons. He is only the sixth player with four 100-run campaigns before his age-24 season, joining Alex Rodriguez, Vada Pinson, Ted Williams, Buddy Lewis and Mel Ott. Trout is the only player in franchise history with even three 100-run seasons at any point in his career.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS Mat Latos, acquired for the final week of the season Monday, made his first appearance for the Angels, entering in the eighth with a then-six-run lead. Latos struck out two and gave up just two hits while recording the final six outs. That pretty much meant a full day of rest for a shorthanded bullpen that had compiled 27 2/3 innings over the past eight games.
"We've got a couple days' rest, with some guys being off [Monday] and then today not having to use them," Scioscia said. "That little refresher is important."
WHAT'S NEXT A's: Veteran lefty Barry Zito is set to make what will likely be the final start of his career in a 4:05 p.m. PT matchup with the Halos at Angel Stadium on Wednesday. Just Saturday, Zito made his first big league start since 2013, allowing the Giants four runs in two-plus innings on 48 pitches. He's expected to be able to get up to 70 pitches.
Angels: Richards (15-11, 3.73 ERA) takes the ball in the series finale against the A's in what might be his final regular-season start. The 27-year-old right-hander has given up a combined five runs in 15 2/3 innings in his past two starts and has given up four runs to the A's in 12 innings this season.