Haren, homers lead Halos to eighth straight win

Haren, homers lead Halos to eighth straight win

Haren, homers lead Halos to eighth straight win
ANAHEIM -- Significant change can be difficult to notice on a daily basis. The arduous baseball schedule offers very little time for exhale, making perspective a tough thing to grasp for the players who are entangled in its beltway and caught up in the day-to-day grind. That's why it's so hard for most of the members of this Angels team to notice much difference about the way they're currently playing, executing, succeeding.

Not for Torii Hunter, though.

When the veteran right fielder left the team on May 14, heading back to Texas to be with his scared teenage son, the Angels were lost. They had just been outscored by 12 runs while dropping two of three to the Rangers and were looking nothing like the team they were promised to be.

Now, Hunter said, "It's way different."

And it's not just because they've now won eight in a row.

"Everybody's playing loose," he added. "When I left, after Texas, there was a little tension. But now that I'm back, it's just a lot looser. Everybody's having fun, just like it should be. ... It's very noticeable -- in the clubhouse, on the bench and definitely in the game play."

Tuesday night was just the latest example.

The Angels got another solid start from Dan Haren, homers from Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo, spectacular catches from Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos and more shutdown bullpen work from Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri, leading them to a 5-1 victory over the Yankees that extended their season-high winning streak.

The Angels (26-25) are above .500 for the first time since the first game of the season and sit 5 1/2 games back of a Rangers team they'll host this weekend, representing their shortest deficit in the American League West since April 17.

The last time the Angels pulled off an eight-game winning streak was 2009 -- also the last time they made the playoffs.

"This is how we expected to play," Haren said after outdueling Andy Pettitte, giving up a run in seven-plus innings to move to 3-5 with a 3.52 ERA. "It's not like we're playing out of our minds. This is what we expected coming out of spring."

Except it didn't happen that way. Shortly after their Opening Day win over the Royals, the Angels put themselves in an uphill climb. The rotation remained steady, but the bullpen was coughing up leads, Pujols didn't look right and the Halos were struggling to produce runs from top to bottom.

But they look like a different team now, the bullpen stabilized since the Frieri acquisition, the lineup more dynamic since Trout's callup and everyone seemingly clicking since the Angels were finally able to string some wins together during last week's road trip.

The most prominent sign is Pujols, whose two-run homer gave him seven since May 16 (after just one before that) and 24 RBIs in May (after four in April), a total that trails only Josh Hamilton in the AL.

"We're playing good," said Pujols, who moved past Carl Yastrzemski for 34th on the all-time list with 453 homers. "We're playing good defense, and we're getting some big hits. We're doing the things we need to do to win."

"I think it's what people expected," added Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, whose club beat the Angels two of three at Yankee Stadium from April 13-15. "They've been playing well, and you knew you weren't going to hold a good team down for a long time. They've got talent over there -- that's the bottom line."

Haren, part of a rotation that will need to step up now that ace Jered Weaver (lower back) will be out at least a couple of weeks, has given up one run and has walked none over his last two starts, which span 16 innings.

At one point, three consecutive Haren starts coincided with Angels shutouts. But against Pettitte, the offense gave him an early cushion with a three-run third inning -- on Trout's RBI triple and Pujols' two-run shot -- and his outfield gave Nick Swisher nightmares, Trout robbing what looked like a home run in left field and Peter Bourjos flagging down a would-be double in the right-center-field gap.

"No balls can drop in the gap," Trout said. "That's a big thing for me and Pete. We're always trying to catch everything."

The Angels added an insurance run in the sixth, on a solo homer from Trumbo that traveled 443 feet and gave him three in as many days, and in the eighth, on an RBI single from Howie Kendrick.

Then, Downs and Frieri pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth, respectively.

Another win and, naturally, more good feelings.

"When you're winning," Hunter added, "it cures everything."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.