ANAHEIM, Calif. — As the Los Angeles Angels continue to eclipse the Oakland A’s, it’s become clear that the Halos’ ability to adjust as a club has been the key to staying in the thick of the AL West race.
Friday night’s game, a 2-1 win over the Tigers, showed exactly that. The Angels spoiled Drew Smyly’s career outing with the help of the late-game lineup change and the bullpen was nearly perfect as they protected the slim lead.
"Those guys had tough hitters every inning," said manager Mike Scioscia. "They did a really nice job, from Mike Morin to Kevin Jepsen to what Joe Smith did, and obviously Huston (Street) closing it out. Those guys all did a terrific job against groupings that were tough every inning."
Efren Navarro, who came in after Josh Hamilton left the game with left knee soreness in the third inning, once again supplied the winning hit after being left out of the starting lineup. Navarro’s walk-off theatrics in the 16th inning a week ago are still fresh in the minds of the Halos and his 2-for-3 performance further extended his hot streak.
It’s a small sample size – only 23 games – but the outfielder has hit safely in 14 of those and half have been multi-hit performances. It’s a crowded outfield in Anaheim right now but it doesn’t deter Navarro, who is ready to come in at all times, be it the first inning or the last.
"I have to play left, right or first so from the first inning on I have to make sure my mind is right and that physically, my body is ready," Navarro said. "Today was one of those days. Josh Hamilton had a little tweak and my name was called, I was able to do my job."
With the Angel bats somewhat cool since the break, Navarro has been a welcome spark. It’s taken a few tries, but he’s proven his value as a utility man during a crucial part of the season.
"He’s doing what he’s capable of doing, he’s getting an opportunity," Scioscia said. "I think that effort is going to put the ball in play. I think he has a real good idea of his swing and he’s not going to try to overpower a pitch. I think he understands using the whole field and I think for the most part, he’s going to go in there and give you a tough at-bat every time…
"He’s just having a great run right now. He’s getting the opportunity and he’s playing well."
Tyler Skaggs had a solid outing but made one big mistakem leaving a fastball up to Miguel Cabrera, who drove it to center field for his 16th home run of the season in the top of the fourth. But Skaggs cruised along for two more innings and came away unscathed. Morin came in with two on and two out in the sixth and immediately was faced with a bases loaded situation after an error.
But he struck out former Angel Torii Hunter to end the inning, and the rest of the relievers combined to give up only a single hit to end the game.
The once-moribund bullpen has suddenly transformed into the team’s biggest strength.
"Mike Morin got probably the biggest out of the game there to keep it a one-run game," Scioscia said. "As we’ve made the turn at the second half, we really haven’t scored the runs like we can. The only thing to do is match them pitch-for-pitch and we’ve been doing it, particularly with our bullpen.
The Angels (61-41) picked up a game on the A’s as Oakland lost at Texas.