Thanks to a bounce-back scoreless outing from Hector Santiago, continued production from new cleanup hitter Howie Kendrick and a bend-but-don't-break bullpen effort, the Angels finished their season series against the A's at 10-9. Their magic number to lock up home-field advantage throughout the postseason is down to 2. And if they take two of three in Seattle this weekend, they'll be the first team to reach 100 wins since the 2011 Phillies.
The Angels were swept in Oakland from May 30 to June 1, dropped two of three here from Aug. 22-24 and faced a four-game deficit in the AL West as late as Aug. 10. Now they lead by 11 1/2 games, while mindful of the fact they may see the A's in the AL Division Series.
"It's big," Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun said of the Angels' first series win in Oakland this season, "because this has been a tough place to win. They play great here."
Santiago recorded a total of nine outs in his last two starts, giving up three runs and five walks in two innings against the Astros on Sept. 14 and seven runs (six earned) on seven hits in one inning against the Rangers on Friday. But the 26-year-old left-hander shut the A's out through 5 1/3 innings, giving up just three hits and two walks to finish his up-and-down first season in Anaheim with a 3.81 ERA.
"I forgot about them," Santiago said of those two rough starts. "Now everyone else can."
Santiago wanted to go out on a high note, not because he needed the confidence boost going into the playoffs but because he wanted to instill confidence in his own teammates.
"I know there was a question mark about our team going in," he said. "I had two rough outings where you get on that negative train. I heard a week ago that we have one starting pitcher. I'm pretty sure we have five, but bad outings go into that. They lose confidence in you, and you as a pitcher kind of lose confidence in yourself sometimes. You just have to bounce back. I knocked out that negative vibe."
While Santiago eased some concerns about the Angels' beleaguered rotation, Kendrick continued to prove that they'll be fine at the cleanup spot.
The veteran second baseman knocked in the Angels' first three runs with a couple of two-out hits against Jon Lester, getting an RBI single in the first and a two-run double in the third. Kendrick is now batting .403 with 18 RBIs in 18 games since replacing an injured Josh Hamilton in the cleanup spot.
"He's our cleanup hitter," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's the look we're going to stay with. He's done great -- getting big hits, having good at-bats, hitting the ball hard."
Scioscia wanted to stay away from overworked relievers Joe Smith and Kevin Jepsen, and the A's made it a one-run game in the seventh, snapping a 16-inning scoreless streak to make it a one-run game. Josh Reddick hit a two-run double and Nick Punto lined an RBI triple off Mike Morin, and Coco Crisp followed with an RBI single off Joe Thatcher. But Jason Grilli struck out Adam Dunn with two on and two outs, and Fernando Salas and Huston Street shut down the A's the rest of the way.
Thursday's off-day will cap a stretch that has seen the Angels play 39 games in 40 days, not to mention 22 straight. They've won 27 of them.
"These guys have been terrific," Scioscia said. "What they've done the last 60 games, it's just been incredible. To borrow a phrase from the '60s, out of sight."