Angels beat Rangers by thinnest of margins

Angels beat Rangers by thinnest of margins

Angels beat Rangers by thinnest of margins
ANAHEIM -- Remember when the Angels couldn't catch a break; when they slumped listlessly through April and nothing ever seemed to go their way?

It seems different now.

It was different on Saturday night, when the Angels, paced by six scoreless innings from C.J. Wilson, used a controversial two-run seventh to pull ahead, then held on in the final two innings to notch an ugly 3-2 win over the Rangers and Yu Darvish in front of a sold-out home crowd.

The journey wasn't pretty. It included two controversial calls in the bottom of the seventh -- on a grounder the Rangers felt nipped Erick Aybar while on his way to third base, and a throw they felt beat Mike Trout to home plate -- and saw an Aybar error almost blow it in the ninth.

But the upward-trending Angels will take the result: A second straight win over their division rivals, giving them 10 victories in their last 11 games, putting them two games above .500 for the first time and cutting their deficit in the American League West to 3 1/2, their smallest margin since April 14.

"We did a lot of things right to get to a certain point at the end, and then we did as many things as you could wrong to give it back to them," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after sealing his first series win over the Rangers since July of last year. "We were fortunate at the end."

Fortunate that Ernesto Frieri's fastball is so unhittable.

Trailing by one in the bottom of the ninth, after an errant throw from Torii Hunter in the eighth gave them a run, the Rangers got a leadoff single by Mike Napoli, representing the first hit Frieri has given up in 13 1/3 innings with the Angels.

"I'm a human," he said later with a big smile.

But with two outs, Ian Kinsler came back from down 0-2 to work an 11-pitch walk. Then, Elvis Andrus hit a ground ball to the left side that should've ended the game, but Aybar clutched when Howie Kendrick wasn't on second base, then threw wide of first to extend it.

That brought up the red-hot Josh Hamilton, with the bases loaded, two outs and a season-high crowd of 44,227 on the edge of its seat.

"I just relaxed," Frieri said, shrugging his shoulders. "I have a lot of confidence in my stuff."

And he has reason.

Frieri threw a first-pitch ball, then zipped three straight fastballs past the swinging bat of Hamilton, giving him his second save in as many days and running his scoreless streak to 14 1/3 innings, a span that has seen him whiff 30.

"It's one of the most impressive things I've ever seen," Wilson said.

"I think we're all comfortable with his makeup," Scioscia added. "He just got back on the horse and made some pitches and struck out one of the best hitters in baseball."

The strikeout put an end to the night the Rangers would like to forget. They essentially gave the Angels a run in the sixth, when Mike Napoli dropped Albert Pujols' fly ball for a two-base error and Adrian Beltre allowed him to score from third with his own miscue. They got just one run in the top of the seventh despite having the bases loaded with none out. And then they didn't get the calls they felt they should've in the bottom half.

"We haven't been playing good defense," said Kinsler, whose club has dropped a season-high four straight. "That's what it comes down to. If we play our style of baseball and do what we're capable of doing, it doesn't matter. If we play our style of baseball, those things don't come into play."

Tied at 1 in the bottom of the seventh against Darvish, the Angels got a leadoff bunt single from Aybar, who later stole second base. Trout then hit a one-out grounder to the left side that Aybar intentionally ran in front of and seemed to avoid on his way to third.

But Andrus, strongly believing the ball nicked Aybar, didn't even attempt a throw to first base upon fielding it, instead pleading his case to second-base umpire Ted Barrett to no avail.

"It hit his jersey for sure," Andrus said. "That's why as soon as I saw it, that's why I didn't make the throw. But [Barrett] didn't see it."

Crew chief Tim McClelland, who worked home plate, disagreed, saying: "I had a great angle and it didn't seem to hit him."

Shortly thereafter, McClelland was involved in his own controversy.

After Alberto Callaspo lined a single to right field, Kendrys Morales, facing Koji Uehara at that point, hit a shallow fly to right field that Nelson Cruz caught and fired home for a bang-bang play at the plate. Trout was called safe, and Yorvit Torrealba got raging mad at McClelland, leading to his ejection.

It really could've gone either way.

"I thought Trout's foot hit plate before Torrealba tagged him," McClelland said.

"I thought I got in there, to tell you the truth," said a biased Trout, who has collected extra-base hits in five straight games. "I talked to [Mark Trumbo], he was behind there, too, telling me which position I had to slide, and he basically said he thought I was safe, too."

Wilson (the former Rangers ace) and Darvish (who essentially replaced him in Texas) didn't get a chance to really go at it on May 11, when a two-hour rain delay in Texas ended Wilson's start before he could even get out of the first inning.

On Saturday night, they went toe-to-toe for six innings. Darvish, who came back from the May 11 rain delay to get the win, was charged with three runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. Wilson battled an escalating pitch count all night, but didn't give up a run despite scattering five hits and walking three.

Wilson, who lowered his ERA to 2.54, has now given up just one run over his last three starts, a span of 20 innings.

"As the game went on, his command got better," Scioscia said. "Early on, he was having a little trouble getting the ball into good zones, but he made some pitches when he had to and settled down, and I thought he pitched well to get through the sixth."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for 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.