ANAHEIM, Calif. – Even the strangest, most inexplicable games are going the Angels’ way.
This wouldn’t have happened when things were going badly, but it’s happening now. Opposing teams make mistakes and pay a price; the Angels make mistakes and find a way to survive.
Their karma is running good right now. Even a bad play here and there doesn’t hurt them.
Here’s the bottom line: The Angels beat the Texas Rangers 3-2 Saturday night at Angel Stadium, their 10th win in 11 games, and nudged to within 3½ games of the first-place Rangers in the American League West. Now they have a chance for a sweep on Sunday afternoon.
They took advantage of three Texas errors, a mistake by shortstop Elvis Andrus and a fortunate call on a play at the plate to win. Strange, indeed.
“We did a lot of things right to get to a certain point in the game, and then we did as many things as you could to give it back to them,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We were fortunate at the end.”
The Rangers, in fact, loaded the bases against Angels reliever Ernesto Frieri in the ninth, in part because of a throwing error by shortstop Erick Aybar. But Frieri struck out the game’s most dangerous hitter, Josh Hamilton, to record the final out after giving up a walk and a single.
“He just got back on the horse and made some pitches and struck out one of the best hitters in baseball,” Scioscia said. “We’re all comfortable with his makeup.”
Here’s how strange a game it was: The Angels scored their first run without benefit of a hit. In the sixth inning, Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli dropped a troublesome pop fly off the bat of Albert Pujols in shallow right field, and Pujols alertly advanced to second as Napoli failed to pick up the ball cleanly. Pujols stole third base and came home when Mark Trumbo hit a bouncer to third baseman Adrian Belte. Beltre intended to throw home on the play, but he dropped the ball as he pivoted toward the plate, another error.
In the seventh, with Aybar at second after a bunt single and a stolen base, Mike Trout hit a bouncer toward short. Elvis Andrus believed the ball hit Aybar and waited for a call from second base umpire Ted Barrett, but it never came. Andrus failed to make a throw to first, so both runners were safe.
“No, no,” Aybar said when asked if the ball nicked him on the way to third. “If the ball hit me, it would have gone the other way,” meaning it would have caromed off his body. But that didn’t happen.
Alberto Callaspo’s single brought home Aybar, and a walk to Albert Pujols loaded the bases and marked the exit of Rangers starter Yu Darvish. With Kohi Uehara pitching, Kendrys Morales lifted a fly ball to right, and Trout opted to challenge the rifle arm of Nelson Cruz.
No question, the play at the plate was close. Trout slid home just as catcher Yorvit Torrealba put a swipe tag on Trout’s left hip. Umpire Tim McClelland called Trout safe, and Torrealba exploded in anger, earning an ejection. It gave the Angels a 3-1 lead.
Things went so badly for the Rangers that when Hamilton was struck out by reliever Scott Downs in the eighth, the bat flew out of his hands and almost hit Beltre in the on-deck circle.
As it was, Texas lost its season-high fourth consecutive game and is 16-18 since starting the season 15-4. The Angels, meanwhile, seem headed in an opposite direction, going 13-5 since May 15.
But there’s still work to do, no question. The Angels won a game, but they also almost gave it away.
“If you play at a high enough level, you’re going to create situations that are going to create some positive things,” Scioscia said. “We also absorbed some negative things that we did. It’s a tough team and we did enough to win, but we’re going to have to tighten some stuff up to move forward.”