The Angels turned the tables on baseball's hottest team in Oakland and have regained momentum
By MICHAEL MARTINEZFS West
Angels are giving their fans a reason to believe.
It hasn't always been easy, but with four weeks and 25 games left in the season, they're making a hard charge to the finish. If the playoffs seemed like a virtual impossibility a couple of weeks ago, they don't anymore.
The Angels return home Friday night after a 5-1 road trip and a three-game sweep of the Oakland A's, who were baseball's hottest team until this week. Their momentum is strong, they've won 12 of 15 games and they're 11 games over .500 for the first time this season.
Even more important, they're now 2½ games out of a wild card spot.
"We believe in ourselves," reliever Ernesto Frieri told FOX Sports West after a 7-1 win over the A's on Wednesday. "We know we're going to make it."
How to explain what's happening? It's baseball. These things can't be understood in any rational manner.
On Aug. 27, the Angels were four games above .500 and 10 games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West. Since then, they've swept the Boston Red Sox, won two of three from the Seattle Mariners and taken three in a row from the A's, outscoring them 21-5.
After getting an impressive start from right-hander Zack Greinke on Tuesday, they got an even better effort from beleaguered starter Dan Haren, who allowed three hits and one run in six innings and won his second consecutive start.
Haren, who at one point last month gave up 12 hits and 10 earned runs in six innings over two starts, has now permitted just one earned run in his past 13 innings. He improved his record to 10-10 and his ERA to 4.46.
Greinke and Haren are just what the Angels need in order to remain competitive to the end. But there are still concerns. No. 1 starter Jered Weaver was sent home Wednesday to have his right shoulder examined by team orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum, putting his scheduled start against the Detroit Tigers in doubt.
Weaver is undeniably an importance piece in the Angels' plans, but a revived Greinke and Haren, plus Ervin Santana and CJ Wilson, give the team the kind of productive rotation it needs down the stretch.
The Angels were bolstered Wednesday by their relievers, especially left-hander Nick Maronde, who was called up from the minors last week and has struck out all four batters he has faced.
Maronde entered the game in a critical situation in the seventh after Garrett Richards, who started the inning, walked Derek Norris and gave up a single to pinch-hitter Brandon Morris to put runners at first and third with one out.
But Maronde, who began the season at Single-A Inland Empire, struck out Coco Crisp and Seth Smith, the latter on three pitches, to preserve the Angels' 3-1 lead.
"We felt he has the makeup to come up here; he certainly has the arm," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He showed up in a big way this afternoon."
The Angels extended their lead to six runs in the ninth when Torii Hunter hit a two-run single after pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis was walked by A's reliever Grant Balfour with the bases loaded.
A's starter Brandon McCarthy was forced out of the game in the fourth inning after a line drive by Erick Aybar struck him on the right side of the head. McCarthy did not lose consciousness, according to the A's, and was taken to nearby Summit Hospital as a precaution.
"I know Brandon really well," Hunter said. "We work out together in Texas. When it happened, it deflated both teams. No matter what, we're competitors, but at the same time we respect what each other does on the field. You could see how the momentum just went out of both of us."
The Angels, however, regained theirs. And now, in the final weeks, they appear to have enough to carry them a while longer.