Angels 7, Mariners 3
The only time Dan Haren isn't thinking about catching the Texas Rangers in the AL West race is when he's pitching. And that focus has enabled the Los Angeles Angels to stay in the hunt after a sluggish start to the season.
Haren worked in and out of trouble to get his 14th victory, Mark Trumbo continued his torrid rookie campaign with a two-run homer and an RBI double, and Vernon Wells hit his 20th home run in a 7-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.
The win, coupled with Texas' 5-1 loss at Tampa Bay, enabled the Angels to climb within 2 1/2 games of first place.
''You feel more of the pressure before and after the games than when you're actually out there,'' Haren said. ''I mean, I still get nervous before I take the mound. But after that, the nerves are pretty much gone and you've got a job to do. To be honest, the pennant race and pitching down the stretch is more of an issue in-between starts.''
Haren (14-8) allowed three runs and 10 hits, striking out three and walking none. The win put the Angels a season-best 13 games over .500 (77-64).
''I'm very encouraged. I mean, we've had our struggles - especially in the beginning of the year. And Texas is an unbelievable ballclub. So for us to be this close this late in the season, if we can put together one good run we can catch them,'' Haren said. ''We've got 21 games left, and I like our chances - especially if we're swinging the bats the way we are right now.''
Anthony Vasquez (1-2) gave up seven runs - six earned - and six hits in 5 2-3 innings for Seattle. The former USC left-hander has surrendered 18 earned runs, 22 hits and six home runs in 15 innings over his first three major league starts, including a 13-5 loss to the Angels last Tuesday at Seattle.
The Mariners are 15-22 since their franchise-record 17-game losing streak in July, which included a four-game sweep by the Angels.
Exactly one month after he robbed Torii Hunter of a two-run homer to left field in his major league debut at Angel Stadium, Los Angeles native Trayvon Robinson started in center for only the second time in the majors because of a season-ending injury to Franklin Gutierrez. He misjudged a two-out triple by Hunter that enabled the Angels to take a 3-1 lead in the first inning.
''He was back there on the wall and looked like he had it all the way, but the ball got behind him,'' Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. ''Obviously, that can't happen. But he obviously had a little edge to him at home plate after that and got a couple of knocks, so that was a good sign. But he's still has to be better out there. I mean, he's a center fielder by trade, and that's what he's done almost his entire career with the exception of this year.''
Hunter trotted to first base, thinking the ball would be caught, and didn't turn on the jets until he rounded first and saw the ball hit off the top of the fence. Peter Bourjos scored on Hunter's third triple of the season and Trumbo followed with his 26th homer.
''He just mixes his pitches so much, I wasn't really keying on one pitch,'' Trumbo said of Vasquez. ''But I was trying to hit a ball up the middle. It looked like Brendan Ryan was really shading me in the hole and the middle of the field looked pretty inviting.''
Trumbo's home run total is the highest among rookies and five shy of the Angels rookie record set by Tim Salmon in 1993. The big first baseman leads the club with 80 RBIs.
''When you have a chance to hit 30 homers in your rookie season, it's special,'' Wells said. ''It's been fun to watch. From day one, when I saw him take B.P. in Arizona, I noted a big difference between him and most of the guys who play this game and the way the ball comes off his bat. And he's shown that throughout the course of the season.''
Trumbo is hands-down the Angels' MVP to this point, but no one in the clubhouse is conceding him that honor just yet.
''I don't think it's too early to call him our MVP,'' Wells said with a grin, ''but I think everybody on this team is going to try to take it from him over these next three weeks, so we can get to where we need to get to. And that's the postseason.''
Haren gave up three two-out singles in the first, including a run-scoring hit to Justin Smoak, who was hitless in his 10 previous career at-bats against the three-time All-Star. Mike Carp tried to go to third base on the play, but was thrown out by Hunter after Dustin Ackley crossed the plate. Hunter's 14th outfield assist equaled his career high from 2001 with Minnesota.
The Mariners had Haren on the ropes again in the second after a leadoff double to Adam Kennedy and an RBI single by Josh Bard. Robinson's double sent Bard to third, but both runners held on Ichiro Suzuki's broken-bat grounder to second and Brendan Ryan took a called third strike.
The first three Angels in the third reached base without the benefit of a hit and all of them scored, increasing the lead to 6-2. Maicer Izturis, who missed the previous three games after getting hit on the right thigh by a pitch, was plunked again by Vasquez. Bourjos walked, and Izturis scored when third baseman Kyle Seager booted Howie Kendrick's grounder. Hunter followed with a sacrifice fly and Kendrick scored on Trumbo's double off the wall in right.
Ryan got Seattle within 6-3 in the fifth with his third homer. It ended a stretch of 50 1-3 innings and 199 batters in which Haren had not allowed a home run against the Mariners. The previous one was Jose Lopez's three-run shot in Seattle's 4-0 victory at Oakland on Sept. 17, 2007.
Notes: Gutierrez was shut down for the rest of the season after leaving Sunday's game at Oakland with a severe left oblique strain. He finished his injury-plagued campaign batting .224 with one home run and 19 RBIs in just 92 games. He will begin next season with an errorless streak of 284 games, an AL record for that position. ... Former Angels CF Darin Erstad, who caught the final out of the 2002 World Series, threw a ceremonial first pitch. Erstad, currently the baseball coach at Nebraska, holds the club record for career average (.355), and hits in one season with 240 in 2000. ... Angels SS Erick Aybar extended his hitting streak to 15 games with an eighth-inning single.