Hot-hitting Halos take opener from Blue Jays

Hot-hitting Halos take opener from Blue Jays

Hot-hitting Halos take opener from Blue Jays
TORONTO -- At some point, you figure, Ernesto Frieri will give up a run.

He has to, right?

"I just pitch," Frieri said, "and I know that maybe tomorrow, or maybe the next day, or at some point, I'm going to give up a run."

Thursday wasn't that day, though.

Trailing by two in the bottom of the ninth, the Blue Jays put the first two runners on, then loaded the bases with one out, but Frieri got the dangerous Edwin Encarnacion to bounce into a game-ending double play, preserving a four-out save and handing the Angels a 9-7 victory at Rogers Centre that ran their winning streak to four.

Frieri has now pitched 23 1/3 scoreless innings since coming over from the Padres.

"He's come close a couple of times, so I'm sure eventually [he'll give up a run]," said manager Mike Scioscia, whose club has won 14 of its last 15 road games. "You just keep making pitches and repeating pitches and you let the chips fall where they will. He's gotten out of some scrapes, but he's doing well."

And so are the Angels, who are a season-high 10 games over .500, have gone 17-7 in June and sport a Major League-best 37-19 record since April 28.

The Angels struggled mightily to come back from deficits early in the season but have improved in that area. In the opener of this four-game series at Rogers Centre, they came back on two occasions, cranking out 14 hits to back up another subpar start from Dan Haren.

When the Blue Jays took a one-run lead in the bottom of the third, the Angels came back with a three-run fourth.

When the Blue Jays regained a one-run lead in the fifth inning on a three-run homer by Jose Bautista, his Major League-leading 26th, the Angels came back with three runs in the sixth.

And when the Blue Jays again made it a one-run game, off LaTroy Hawkins in the bottom of the seventh, the Angels tacked on a necessary insurance run in the top of the ninth.

"[The Angels] are playing good ball right now," said former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis, who had four hits for the Blue Jays. "They are hot. You've got to make good pitches to a lineup like that. Like I said, tip your hat to them."

Albert Pujols had four hits (two of them doubles) for the first time in his Angels career to put his batting average at .270 -- the highest it's been since April 20. Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo combined to go 4-for-8, continuing what has been a resurgent month for both. Mark Trumbo hit his team-leading 19th homer. And Mike Trout continued his nightly brilliance, hitting what ended up being the go-ahead two-run homer in a 2-for-5 night that put his batting average at .345.

The Angels' offense has now posted double-digit-hit games in seven of its last eight, a stretch that has seen the team average 7.6 runs per game.

"Everybody's contributing," Pujols said. "I think the beautiful thing is that today Dan struggled a little bit, but it was time for us to pick him up, too, because he's pitched some great games and we haven't been able to score enough runs for him. So we were able to answer back."

As good as the offense was, it's a different game if not for two critical defensive plays.

With the Blue Jays trailing, 8-7, with a runner on third and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Bautista hit a hard grounder to shortstop that Aybar fielded on an in-between hop and fired home just in time to get the speedy Colby Rasmus. And while turning the double-play ball from Encarnacion in the bottom of the ninth, second baseman Howie Kendrick threw a couple of feet short at first base, but Pujols made a nifty scoop to end the game.

"Erick had a tough play with a fast runner on third, and [catcher] Bobby Wilson made a good tag," Scioscia said, "and that double play was not easy. Howie hung in there to get rid of it, and Albert made a great pick."

All of this overshadowed the continued struggles of Haren, who gave up six runs on seven hits in six innings, marking the ninth time in 16 outings that he did not produce a quality start. He finished strong, with a 1-2-3 sixth inning, but continued to have trouble with his location. He gave up two homers -- putting his total at 15, after allowing 20 all of last season -- while running his ERA to 4.53.

"My stuff is fine, I'm just making mistakes in bad times," Haren said. "I'm personally not throwing the ball well at all, but the team has been unbelievable."

Frieri included.

The bottom of the ninth didn't begin very well, with Mathis and Brett Lawrie hitting back-to-back singles. But Frieri loves this pressure. He craved it while buried in the Padres' bullpen all these years, loved it during stints in winter ball and, in some way, enjoyed seeing two runners on to start the frame.

"I got excited," Frieri said. "When the crowd got loud, I got excited. I was smiling. I don't know if you saw me. Nobody out, first and second, I was like, 'Oh man, I like this. I have to get out of here, man. It's going to be fun when I get out of here. OK, let's do it.'"

Frieri proceeded to strike out Rasmus, for his 39th K of the season. Then he walked Bautista, refusing to give in on a 3-2 count because, as he said, "I don't want him to be the hero."

Then, on an 0-2 count to Encarnacion, Frieri surprised everyone by going away from his patented fastball and throwing a slider, causing Encarnacion to roll over and end the game.

Another day, another zero.

"I know I'm going to give up a run, because I'm not perfect -- I'm a human," said Frieri, now 10-for-10 in saves. "So whenever that comes, I'll be fine. The only thing I want is that it doesn't cost us the game."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.