ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Although Adrian Beltre was nearly doubled over in abdominal pain before the game, he still demanded a spot in Texas manager Ron Washington’s lineup.
After Beltre’s ninth-inning homer, the Los Angeles Angels were the ones with a sick feeling in their stomachs.
Beltre hit a tiebreaking two-run shot off closer Ernesto Frieri, and the Rangers dealt yet another blow to Los Angeles’ fading playoff hopes with a 3-1 victory Thursday night.
Texas (89-60) improved the AL’s best record and stayed four games ahead of Oakland (85-64) in the AL West by taking two of three from the Angels (81-69), who dropped 4 games behind the Athletics and Baltimore in the AL wild-card standings.
After a scintillating eight-inning duel between Yu Darvish and Zack Greinke, Beltre connected for his 34th homer against Frieri (3-2), who wasted a fine start by Greinke for the second time in six days.
“I was glad to be in there, and I’m just glad (Washington) allowed me to be in there,” Beltre said. “This is the time of year you want to play. It’s not the place or time to relax right now, especially against an opponent in our division.”
Beltre missed Wednesday’s game and nearly sat out Thursday with abdominal troubles before talking his way into the lineup during batting practice. He went 0 for 3 against Greinke, but smashed a hanging slider from Frieri after Michael Young’s leadoff single.
“That was the pitch that I wanted to throw,” Frieri said. “He hit it. So what? Every pitch that I made is because I wanted to throw it. He’s a good hitter, and that happens. Maybe I didn’t put that pitch where I wanted to put it, but I wanted to throw that pitch.”
Darvish (16-9) held the Angels to four hits and struck out nine while matching Greinke, who gave up five hits and struck out eight. Neither team managed an extra-base hit in the first eight innings.
Darvish was largely unhittable for the fifth consecutive start, repeatedly mixing 95-mph fastballs and 65-mph breaking balls while retiring 14 of the Angels’ first 16 hitters. The rookie is actually getting better as he closes in on his first major league-playoff experience, leaving Young marveling at the Japanese right-hander’s improvements.
“I’m learning about myself, especially before this (good) stretch, when I wasn’t consistent and wasn’t performing,” Darvish said through a translator. “These outings are something the team expects. They acquired me to perform like this.”
Joe Nathan gave up a two-out double to Albert Pujols in the ninth, but got Kendrys Morales on a fly to finish his 34th save.
The Rangers won their second straight game without slugger Josh Hamilton, who will return to Texas for further examination of a sinus condition. Hamilton left Tuesday’s game in the fourth inning with the problem, saying his entire family has been under the weather for several days.
Nelson Cruz had two hits and scored the first run in the fifth inning for the Rangers, but Los Angeles tied it in the sixth on Torii Hunter’s grounder.
Greinke didn’t lose his rhythm after Frieri gave away his last outing in spectacular fashion. The normally reliable closer gave up two homers in four pitches while blowing a two-run lead in the ninth after he took over for Greinke, who had thrown 109 pitches — the same number he had through eight innings Thursday.
“I just pitch as long as I can, and (Angels manager Mike) Scioscia makes the decisions from there,” Greinke said. “Frieri has been pitching great all year, and his job is the ninth inning. … The good thing is that we have two teams we could catch. The toughest thing for us is that we’re playing tough teams right now. I know it won’t be easy, but it’s definitely possible.”
After a slow start in Orange County, Greinke has been everything the Angels anticipated when they acquired him in July from Milwaukee, going 4-0 with a 1.60 ERA in his last six starts while holding every opponent to two runs or fewer.
He didn’t walk a Texas batter, never even getting into a three-ball count until the seventh inning.
Cruz and David Murphy led off the fifth with singles for Texas. Geovany Soto hit a medium-length fly to left, but Cruz beat Hunter’s strong throw with a wide slide touching the plate with his hand.
After slumping All-Star Mark Trumbo delivered a leadoff single in the sixth, pinch-runner Peter Bourjos reached third on Chris Iannetta’s single. Mike Trout struck out, but Hunter’s broken-bat grounder dawdled on the grass just long enough to allow Bourjos to score the tying run.
NOTES: Hamilton tried to participate in a pregame workout, but couldn’t do much. He was in the Rangers’ dugout during the game. … Scioscia says struggling LHP C.J. Wilson is keeping his spot in the rotation despite failing to make it out of the third inning Wednesday night. … Los Angeles opens a weekend series with the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, with Ervin Santana facing Jake Peavy. Texas opens a three-game series in Seattle.