After a weekend of Manny Machado-fueled controversy in Baltimore, the Oakland Athletics couldn't get too worked up over Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, who predicted that his team "would beat" the A's this week and said that Oakland "had a little bit of extra luck" in winning five of its first six games over the Angels.
Catcher Derek Norris said "there might be some added incentive" when Frieri pitches, but Manager Bob Melvin scoffed at the notion that Frieri's comments would light a fire under the A's, who lead the major leagues in runs and earned-run average and have the best record in the American League.
"We play pretty spirited games anyway," Melvin said. "I don't think what anybody else says is going to make us say, 'OK, now we're going to play harder.' "
Indeed, the A's brought their usual smash-mouth style of baseball to Angel Stadium on Monday night, crashing into walls to rob the Angels of extra-base hits, gunning down an Angels speedster on the bases and immediately retaliating when their star player was knocked down by a pitch.
But the Angels had an antidote to stop even the hottest team: a dominant starting pitcher. Garrett Richards allowed one run and four hits in seven innings, striking out four and walking none, to lead the Angels to a 4-1 victory that extended their win streak to four and cut Oakland's division lead to 3 1/2 games.
Richards, who failed to make it out of the first inning in his last start against Oakland, when he gave up five runs and five hits in a 9-5 loss on May 30, allowed a run in the second on Yoenis Cespedes' double and Stephen Vogt's single, but he did not allow another runner to reach second base.
"Two-thirds of an inning is pretty weak," Richards said of that May 30 start. "But I gave them one that time. I felt this was my turn to show them what I've got."
Richards walked three of the 10 batters he faced on May 30 and got off to a rough start Monday when he threw three balls to Coco Crisp to open the game. But the right-hander threw two strikes and got Crisp to fly to center, an at-bat Manager Mike Scioscia called "huge."
"After getting the first one over, it was like a little light switch went off to get aggressive," Richards said. "The last time, I was nibbling. I got back to trusting my stuff, filling up the zone, getting ahead of counts and putting guys."
That's exactly what Frieri, pitching for a fourth straight day, did in the ninth when he struck out Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Cespedes for his 11th save. But there was no bravado afterward for Frieri, just an apology for his comments.
"It was a misunderstanding," Frieri said. "I'm sorry if I offended anybody. I respect the A's—they've been playing really good baseball. But at the same time, I have confidence in my team, and I knew we were going to play better baseball."
The superb pitching helped ease the sting of some bad mound-related news for the Angels, who scratched Tyler Skaggs from Tuesday night's start because of a right hamstring strain that will send the left-hander to the disabled list.
Left-hander Hector Santiago, demoted to the bullpen on May 9 and to triple A on May 21, will start against the A's.
Skaggs said he didn't notice until he got off the plane after last Thursday's game in Houston that his leg was sore, but he called it "a minor setback," adding that he did not expect to be sidelined for more than 15 days.