ANAHEIM -- Jered Weaver built himself a mound of trouble right out of the chute on a sizzling Sunday at Angel Stadium. But it's a funny thing about Weaver and trouble. It has a way of bringing out the very best in him. It's always been like that for the skinny kid from Simi Valley, Calif., who has become The Man for the Angels. He showed all the right stuff again on Sunday in a 4-1 victory, completing the Angels' sweep of the White Sox and keeping them 2 1/2 games behind the A's for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"Your competitive edge comes out when you're up against the wall," Weaver said. "You're going to let them beat you, or you're going to fight your way out of it. "Trying to lock in and trying to make pitches in tough situations is something I've had since my college days." At Long Beach State, Weaver was the best pitcher in college baseball. He has taken the leap to the highest level, establishing himself among the elite pitchers in the Majors. His latest victory, giving him an American League-high and career-high 19, came with a struggle. A 33-pitch first inning was a beast of burden. Weaver loaded the bases on Kevin Youkilis' single, Adam Dunn's double down the left-field line and a walk to Paul Konerko. Dangerous Alex Rios, who stepped in hitting .301 with 24 homers and 87 RBIs, took Weaver to an 11th pitch in a heated duel before striking out on a wicked changeup. A ground ball by A.J. Pierzynski to Erick Aybar at shortstop took Weaver out of the inning and left him highly animated as he made his way to the dugout, the crowd of 36,546 suddenly alive. "The best pitch he threw all day was the changeup to Rios," manager Mike Scioscia said. "That thing just stopped. Rios kept alive [fouling off] some good breaking balls. Then Weave pulled the change that just stopped." The changeup is one of a half-dozen pitches in Weaver's arsenal, and he's confident enough in his command to call on any of them in a given situation. "I was trying to get a ground ball or a strikeout," Weaver said, referring to the Rios at-bat. "I wanted to locate down and try to keep him off balance. "He had some good swings at pitches and fouled them off. Obviously, he was seeing the ball well. To get him to swing and miss was huge. Then I was able to make a pitch to Pierzynski and get a ground ball. It was kind of nice to come out of the first unscathed." From first, Konerko watched the Rios-Weaver confrontation with admiration. "Alex had a great at-bat against him," Konerko said. "He did nothing wrong. He kept fouling off tough pitches, taking good swings at every pitch that was a good pitch to hit. It was a heck of an at-bat and Weaver is pretty good. He's who he is because of that reason, too. "That's kind of how you look at it. Sometimes as a hitter, if you do things wrong, you take bad swings and swing at bad pitches, that's a different story. It didn't happen." Weaver needed every trick in his bag to keep the White Sox scoreless into the seventh, when Pierzynski doubled leading off. A wild pitch advanced Pierzynski to third, and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Dayan Viciedo on Weaver's 112th and final pitch. Four relievers -- Kevin Jepsen, Garrett Richards, Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri -- combined to finish the job. The Angels had one flurry, generating four sixth-inning runs highlighted by Kendrys Morales' two-run homer, and it was enough against Gavin Floyd. The White Sox, with five consecutive losses, are gasping for air in their duel with the Tigers down the AL Central stretch. Running into Weaver, who is 11-2 at home this year and 52-20 in his career, couldn't have happened at a worse time for Chicago. What he did in that first inning defines the 6-foot-7 right-hander with the cross-firing delivery. Facing hitters 1,128 times across his career with runners in scoring position, Weaver has held them to a .222 batting average, .289 on-base percentage and .331 slugging percentage for a .620 OPS (on-base plus slugging). By comparison, Tigers ace and reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander has the following career slash line with runners in scoring position: .243/.326/.358/.683. Weaver has been slightly tougher to beat across the board in those high-pressure situations. "Weave knows what he's doing on the mound," Scioscia said. "He can change speeds with anyone." Verlander hasn't been quite as dominant this year, leaving the Cy Young race open for debate. Weaver, who finished second to Verlander last year, leads the league in wins, winning percentage (19-4, .826), opponents' batting average (.213) and WHIP (1.00). He's tied for second with Verlander in ERA at 2.74, behind the Rays' David Price's 2.58. His growing ability to keep hitters off balance with his off-speed stuff has resulted in more early-count outs for Weaver, diminishing his strikeout totals. Verlander, with 223 punchouts, is right behind teammate Max Scherzer. Weaver, having missed three starts with lower back issues, has 136 in 180 2/3 innings. Weaver has been told he has two starts left -- the series opener at Texas on Friday night and the Oct. 3 season finale at Seattle. Twenty wins would be sweet, but not nearly as tasty as a return to postseason play by his Angels for the first time since 2009. "All we can do," Weaver said, "is go out and win games."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.