Angels 6, Tigers 1
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)
Mike Trout provided the Los Angeles Angels with the perfect beginning and the perfect ending to another impressive victory over one of the teams they are battling for a wild-card berth.
Trout hit a leadoff homer in the first inning off reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander - and robbed Prince Fielder of a home run to center field for the final out in C.J. Wilson's 6-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night.
And for good measure, he also took over the AL batting race by a point over Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who was ejected in the fourth inning for arguing balls and strikes. This should be an interesting race down the stretch - not just for playoff berths, but for the AL MVP as well.
''Man, I have chills going down my back. Trout is fun to watch,'' Angels Gold Glove right fielder Torii Hunter said. ''I've ended games diving in the gap, making plays, sliding in the gap - but to hit a home run at the beginning of the game, and then end it robbing a home run, that's pretty impressive.
''This guy's not worried about that MVP at all,'' Hunter added. ''He's trying to get the guys to rally around him. This guy's going to be a leader, I'll tell you that now, because he wants to win. He comes ready to play every day, and he'll do whatever it takes to win. So Trout is definitely going to be that guy leading this team one day.''
The Angels have won 10 of 11 since losing consecutive games at Detroit, and are a season-high 13 games over .500 ( 76-63) with 23 games left. The fewest wins they ever made it to the postseason with were the 92 they had in 2004, when they won the first of five AL West titles after Mike Scioscia became manager in 2000. They won the World Series in 2002 as a wild card after winning 99 games.
''We still have a couple weeks that we have to continue to play like this in order to get where we want to get,'' Wilson said. ''It's like, Texas isn't slowing down, and neither are any of these other teams that we're chasing. We're conscious of that, so we have to really try to make the most out of each day.''
Wilson (12-9) won his third straight start, allowing an unearned run and four hits in 7 2-3 innings with six strikeouts and two walks. It was the first time the All-Star left-hander pitched at least seven innings in 11 starts since July 13. His first three-game winning streak since last September began after a stretch of 11 consecutive outings in which he was 0-5.
''It was really probably my best game,'' Wilson said. ''But really more than anything, it was the ability to throw different pitches. I had my curveball, my slider and my cutter, kind of all whenever I wanted to, and that really makes a big difference because they can't just sit on the fastball.''
Verlander (13-8) gave up six runs and nine hits and struck out two in six innings. The five-time All-Star is 0-3 in his last five road starts, including a 9-8 loss against Kansas City in which he matched a career worst by allowing eight earned runs over 5 2-3 innings.
''Our big guy just wasn't good tonight. You can't camouflage it and you can't hide it,'' manager Jim Leyland said. ''Right off the bat, it just wasn't his night. A lot of teams plan on going right after him early. Tonight they just ambushed him, and it worked.''
Verlander made 29 of his 97 pitches in the first inning as the Angels tagged him for four runs. Trout started it with a drive into the top tier of the double-decker bullpen in left field. Howie Kendrick added a two-run double and Vernon Wells capped the rally with an RBI double.
''It was a little bit of a letdown right in the first there with the four spot, and that is something we can't really let happen,'' Leyland said. ''I don't mean we didn't battle the rest of the way. We did, but it took a little air out of our sail.''
Trout's 26th homer tied the Angels' season record for leadoff batters, which was set by Brian Downing in 1982 and equaled by Tony Phillips in 1995. It was the eighth time that Verlander has given up a homer to the first batter he faced and the fourth time this season.
''It wasn't pretty,''' Verlander said. ''They got to me early. First batter of the game I made a mistake right down the middle to a guy who is having a fantastic year.''
Verlander's previous start against the Angels was in Detroit on July 31, 2001, when Maicer Izturis broke up his bid for a third no-hitter with a two-out single in the eighth inning.
Umpire Jeff Kellogg was forced out of the game in the bottom of the second inning after taking a foul tip by Hunter flush off the facemask, and first base ump Tim Timmons took over behind the plate.
Timmons got some heat from Cabrera after a called strike in the fourth, and Cabrera grounded into a double play on the next pitch before Fielder struck out swinging. Moments later, Timmons ejected Cabrera for saying something from the dugout - then tossed third base coach Gene Lamont after he and Leyland complained to Timmons about Cabrera's ejection.
NOTES: Infante drove in the Tigers' only run against Wilson in the fourth with an RBI single, his 1,000th career hit. His first was on Sept. 7, 2002, a go-ahead RBI single against Mike Mussina in the eighth inning of a 2-1 Tigers win at Yankee Stadium. ... Izturis left the game in the fourth inning for a pinch-hitter because of tightness in his ribcage. He has no RBIs in 21 at-bats against the Tigers this season. ... Cabrera has 36 homers and 116 RBIs with 24 games left on the schedule. He averaged 31.9 homers and 115.2 RBIs over the previous eight seasons. ... Angels slugger Mark Trumbo, who got the night off, has 17 hits in 91 at-bats over his last 23 games (.187) with one homer, 10 RBIs, 39 strikeouts and five walks. He is hitless in his last 15 at-bats.