ANAHEIM, Calif. — There is still life in the Angels.
Not a lot mind you, but enough to keep them pushing forward, watching the standings, looking for an edge. Stranger things have happened.
“I saw St. Louis do it,” Torii Hunter said Tuesday night. “They were 11½ games back last year (and won the World Series). And in 2006 when I was with the Twins, we were 8½ games back and we ended up winning the division.
“I’m a believer.”
It will take that kind of belief for the Angels keep their hopes alive. It may also take a few more walk-off wins like the one they pulled off against the Boston Red Sox at Angel Stadium.
If momentum can be created by a rousing win, it’s possible their 6-5 victory over the Red Sox did just that. Mike Trout tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with an RBI single, and Hunter won it with a sacrifice fly that scored Albert Callaspo.
How important was the win? A loss would have dropped the Angels 5½ games behind Baltimore and Oakland in the wild card race. With 33 games remaining, every defeat becomes critical. Every win sustains hope.
“It’s obvious the situation we’re in, but it won’t change our approach,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “It’s ahead of us. We’re going to have the games ahead of us we need to win to reach our goal. Hopefully, we’re going to start to create momentum getting into this pennant race.”
It’s a race that continually threatens to leave them behind. They came home Sunday night after winning four of six games on a road trip to Boston and Detroit but without gaining ground on first-place Texas in the American League West.
They lost another half game to the Rangers on Monday, an off day, making the likelihood of winning the West almost improbable — except in the mind of Hunter.
“As long as we get in there it’s fine, but we still want to win the division,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 priority. We’ve got 30-plus games left. If we run off about 10, 15 in a row, and they lose 10 in a row, you never know. We’ll see what happens.”
A come-from-behind win can create that kind of optimism. The Angels fell behind 5-2 to Boston in the sixth inning but got two runs back on a homer by Albert Pujols and a double by Howie Kendrick, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games. Pujols, playing for the first time in six days because of soreness in his right calf, was 2 for 4.
The Angels actually had a 2-0 lead in the first, partly with the help of Trout, who already has a lock on AL Rookie of the Year but continues campaigning for MVP votes. He led off the game with a home run, becoming the youngest player ever to total 25 homers and 40 stolen bases in the same season.
Trout came through again after hard-throwing Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves put two runners on base, hitting Erick Aybar on the foot and walking Callaspo, who was hitting for Chris Iannetta.
Trout fell behind 0-2 on fastballs, shortened up his swing and drove a pitch past a diving shortstop Jose Iglesias to bring in Aybar.
“I was just trying to stay up the middle and shorten up my swing,” said Trout, repeating a familiar mantra.
Said Scioscia: “Mike has a pretty compact swing and a unique approach for a young player. He’s not afraid to get into deep counts, he doesn’t change his approach very often, and he just relies on his approach in those situations. In the ninth inning, he’s just going to try and put the ball in play and find a hole. It was a big hit.”
Big enough to keep the Angels believing they have a chance. The pressure is on, but they haven’t given up hope.
“You try not to feel (the pressure) too much,” starting pitcher Jered Weaver said. “We know what we have ahead of us. We just have to keep grinding it out.”