LeBlanc's gem sends Angels closer to AL's top seed

Lefty silences A's; magic number to lock up best record shrinks to 3

LeBlanc's gem sends Angels closer to AL's top seed

OAKLAND -- Wade LeBlanc was designated for assignment three times this season. The Angels designated him on May 31 and the Yankees claimed him three days later, designated him two weeks after that and watched him reject his outright assignment and return to the Angels, who designated him once again on Aug. 26 and ultimately took him off their 40-man roster.

LeBlanc thought about that late Tuesday night after shutting down the A's, twirling 5 1/3 scoreless innings for the second time in six days in a 2-0 victory at O.co Coliseum.

"You know what, it's been awesome," the journeyman left-hander said. "It's been a big-time blessing to end up back here, with the opportunity that I've had to throw some meaningful pitches and try to give these guys a chance to win."

LeBlanc's win kept the Angels 2 1/2 games up on the Orioles for the best record in baseball and trimmed their magic number to lock up home-field advantage throughout the postseason to three. Seeding isn't manager Mike Scioscia's primary concern, though. His focus is on maintaining some semblance of momentum heading into the American League Division Series and trying to figure out what to do with his pitching.

LeBlanc has made his case for cracking the Angels' postseason roster.

"We're looking at a lot of things this week," Scioscia said, "and anytime players perform well, obviously it's going to help you to be stronger and help you to make some decisions. We obviously haven't made any decisions yet, but that's two strong starts from Wade right there."

Last Thursday, the day after the Angels clinched the AL West title, LeBlanc found out around noon that he'd be replacing Jered Weaver and starting against Felix Hernandez, then he gave up three hits, no walks and no runs in 5 1/3 innings. On Tuesday, the 30-year-old gave up five hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings and outpitched a lights-out Sonny Gray, who struck out a career-high 12 batters in seven innings.

LeBlanc doesn't want to concern himself with his chances of cracking the postseason roster, "Especially with a team like this behind you," he said. "You just want to go out there and enjoy every pitch."

His outing -- plus a combined 3 2/3 scoreless innings by Jason Grilli, Kevin Jepsen, Joe Smith and Huston Street -- handed the A's their seventh shutout loss since the start of August, sending them into a tie with the Royals for the AL Wild Card lead while keeping them three games up on the Mariners for the second spot.

"He didn't really miss over the plate tonight," A's first baseman Stephen Vogt said of LeBlanc after stranding six baserunners. "He's a really good pitcher, and the key [to get to him] is when he misses over the plate, and he didn't do that tonight."

The Angels, who must win three of their final four games to finish with 100 wins, won the kind of game they won many times over at the start of the second half, before their offense started to click. Their starter kept them in the game, their bullpen threw up zeros and their position players did the little things.

Like Erick Aybar, who toyed with A's catcher Geovany Soto in the second inning, breaking to second as he casually lobbed the ball back to the pitcher, advancing to third when Soto's errant throw trickled away and later scoring when Soto threw to second on Efren Navarro's attempted steal.

Or Howie Kendrick, who got the Angels out of the fifth by barehanding Eric Sogard's bunt and making a perfect, off-balance throw to first baseman Albert Pujols with a runner on third. The next half-inning, the Angels got a critical insurance run on Gordon Beckham's leadoff homer.

"Me and Albert were both like, 'Man, he may try to bunt,' and sure enough, he laid it down," Kendrick said of Sogard. "It was a great bunt by him, and I was just able to make a play. The only play I had was to barehand it and throw it, and it was still close."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read 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.