The Angels (58-50) crept to within a half-game of Oakland, which lost in 11 innings to Toronto, for second place in the American League West with the win, while keeping pace with division-leading Texas, which beat Kansas City, but they also gained a measure of confidence after blowing yet another lead and still coming out on top.
"It's tough when they tie it late on the road," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who saw a 5-3 lead evaporate quickly in the seventh inning on Kevin Youkilis' two-run homer, his second home run of the game. "Our team showed a lot of character. We're going to hopefully build from this and get a little momentum and some confidence in our bullpen and hopefully take another step forward [on Sunday]."
Particularly key was the response from an overburdened bullpen following the Youkilis homer off LaTroy Hawkins, who was assessed his second blown save, yet regrouped and retired the next six hitters.
Hawkins was followed by Kevin Jepsen (2-1), who picked up the win by pitching a scoreless ninth, which included an 11-pitch battle against Alejandro De Aza that resulted in a flyout to center field for the second out.
Ernesto Frieri picked up his 13th save by retiring the side in the 10th, after Howie Kendrick's clutch two-out RBI single in the top of the inning finally pushed the Angels back ahead for the eventual winning run, plating Alberto Callaspo after his two-out double.
"We had a couple rough ones the past couple games and then coming into [this game] it seems like it's been coming down to the wire lately," said Kendrick, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and made up for grounding into a rally-killing double play in the third. "It definitely feels good to get wins like these. These type of wins are the ones that start those streaks, so you definitely have to have games like these, where you break a tie or you come from behind and win. That could be the little thing that starts your offense or gets your whole team rolling again."
Or gets the bullpen back on track.
Santana certainly did his part to help the beleaguered bullpen by going six innings and allowing just three runs (two earned) in his 94-pitch performance. What was most needed though was the relievers closing out a game out again to win a nail-biter.
"It's the most important ingredient to a successful team," the 39-year old Hawkins said of the bullpen's role. "You can't make the playoffs without a good bullpen. [That's] every team. I can't remember a time when a team that didn't have a good bullpen made the playoffs. It just doesn't happen."
It also doesn't hurt to have guys in the lineup like Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, who again spearheaded an early offensive attack to build a quick 4-1 lead for Santana. Pujols went 2-for-5 and homered for the sixth time in the past five games, while Trout went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and added another defensive highlight clip -- taking away a home run from Gordon Beckham to end the second with a leaping grab in left-center.
It appeared that Trout waved off left fielder Vernon Wells on the fly before leaping to snag the ball, but he was actually just feeling for the wall. Either way, after Trout nearly snagged the game-winning homer by Alex Rios on Friday night, it's obvious that he's quickly making a lasting impression throughout baseball.
"I told him in one at-bat, I'm like 'You're really good, man,' because he does it all," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who hit a homer in his fourth straight game. "He makes those catches in the outfield look so good. He hits for power. He can run as fast as anyone I've seen in a long time. He plays the game right, plays the game hard, has a smile on his face. The Angels are lucky to have him and he's one of the best I've seen in a long time."
"The guy's phenomenal," he said. "I haven't seen many guys do what he's been doing. Rookie year, MVP talk, it's pretty impressive what he's been doing and it's fun being his teammate and having him at the top of the lineup. It's like, 'What's he going to do next?'"
Whatever it is, people won't have to wait long to find out during Sunday's rubber match.