ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Angels are ignoring the standings and just focusing on playing the game. That attitude has helped them put together their best stretch of the season.
Jason Vargas completed an undefeated May with seven sharp innings, Howie Kendrick doubled twice and scored three runs, and the Angels beat the Dodgers 3-2 Thursday night on Chris Nelson’s tiebreaking RBI single to salvage a split of the four-game Freeway Series.
The Angels have won 10 of 12 but have gained only 3 1/2 games in the AL West standings during that stretch and still trail division-leading Texas by 8 1/2.
“I can’t even tell you the last time I even thought about a deficit. I can’t even tell you how many games Texas or any other team has won or lost,” Kendrick said. “The biggest thing for us is just to put up Ws and go from there. The more you worry about those things, the tougher it gets.”
Vargas (5-3) allowed two runs and five hits, struck out six and walked two. The left-hander was 5-0 with a 2.30 ERA in six starts this month, after going 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA in five starts during April.
“I don’t really have an answer for that, other than getting more outs,” Vargas said. “There wasn’t anything I tried to change or do differently. I’m just being more consistent.”
Vargas has three of the victories during the Angels’ recent surge.
“I faced Vargas for years when he was with Seattle, and you know what you’re going to get,” Kendrick said. “I mean, the guy finds a way to get it done.”
Ernesto Frieri pitched a scoreless ninth for his 12th save in 13 attempts, one night after giving up home runs to Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Van Slyke in a save.
Ted Lilly (0-2) was charged with three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 2-3 innings and struck out three.
“He’s kind of crafty because he’s got that windup where he kind of throws off your timing a little bit. So the biggest thing is to try to wait for him to make a mistake,” Kendrick said. “He made a few mistakes tonight and we were able to put some runs on the board, but he threw pretty well.”
Lilly was a strike away from getting out of the sixth but walked Chris Iannetta on a borderline pitch on the inside corner, putting runners at the corners. Manager Don Mattingly then replaced the left-hander with Ronald Belisario.
“I didn’t get the key out in the sixth when I needed it,” Lilly said. “I gave up a double to Kendrick. I had Iannetta and ended up letting that at-bat get away. I had him 1-2 and didn’t put him away. The objective is not just to feel good at this point. The objective was to get the job done. But I walked three guys and I only went 5 2-3 innings. Not enough was working right.”
Nelson, making his first appearance in the Angels’ starting lineup as the designated hitter after getting claimed off waivers from the Yankees on May 17, drove in Kendrick with a bouncing single off Belisario’s glove to snap a 2-all tie. Another infield hit by J.B. Shuck loaded the bases, but Belisario retired Erick Aybar on a groundout after getting a visit from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
The Dodgers played without slumping center fielder Matt Kemp, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list one day after straining his right hamstring chasing down a double to right-center by Mike Trout. The Angels scratched right fielder Josh Hamilton was not in the starting lineup for the second time in three games because of back spasms. But he entered to play right field in the eighth with the Angels trying to protect their one-run lead.
Alberto Callaspo put the Angels ahead 2-1 in the fourth with an RBI single, following a one-out triple to right-center by Kendrick. But the Dodgers tied it when Ramon Hernandez drove Vargas’ first pitch of the fifth inning into the left field bullpen for his second home run with the club.
Carl Crawford, who came in 0 for 9 against Vargas, drove his second pitch of the game over the head of right fielder Mark Trumbo for a triple and scored on Gonzalez’s sacrifice fly.
Crawford turned in the Dodgers’ best defensive play of the season in the bottom half, racing full speed on a flyball down the left field line by the switch-hitting Callaspo and making a diving catch across the chalk before slamming into the short wall in front of the box seats.
Kendrick had to stay put at first base, but he eventually scored the tying run when Iannetta followed with a two-out RBI double over the head of Andre Ethier — who started in center field while Van Slyke played right.
Kemp, a two-time Gold Glove winner, is on the DL for the fourth time in his career — including two stints last season because of a left hamstring strain that ended his consecutive game playing streak at 399 and cost him a combined 51 games. The Dodgers were 24-27 in his absence.
The MVP runner-up two seasons ago, was hitting .251 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 51 games following offseason shoulder surgery, and has struck out 60 times in 191 at-bats.
NOTES: First base ump Gary Darling blew a call in the Angels’ eighth, ruling Shuck safe on a slow bouncer to a charging Mark Ellis. TV replays clearly showed Shuck was out by a step, and Mattingly came out to argue. … The Angels are 51-31 against the Dodgers in the regular season since hiring manager Mike Scioscia, who has caught more games than anyone in Dodgers history. … Iannetta came in 2 for 16 lifetime against Lilly.