BALTIMORE — The first shock wave came when Oakland, the team the Angels are chasing in the American League West, acquired Boston ace Jon Lester for left fielder and cleanup batter Yoenis Cespedes, giving the Athletics a formidable rotation that includes Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir.
The next came in the final hour before Thursday's 1 p.m. PDT non-waiver trade deadline, when pitching-rich Detroit acquired Tampa Bay ace David Price, boosting a rotation that, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, now boasts the last three AL Cy Young Award winners.
All of which prompted an odd reaction in the Angels clubhouse, where the hill to climb toward the division title and AL pennant had grown steeper.
"I love it," reliever Jason Grilli said before the Angels outlasted the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night, with Albert Pujols' run-scoring single in the top of the 13th inning giving them a 1-0 victory in Camden Yards.
"I can't wait to play those guys, because I think, trade or no trade, we're pretty good too. I'm confident in what we have. The guys in this room are confident in what we have. So let's go get it."
When General Manager Jerry Dipoto awoke to news of the Lester trade, his reaction was like that of most fans.
"Wow," he said. "That's Jon Lester. He's a stud. We've seen him on the postseason stage before. He's been great. A good move for the A's."
But that didn't motivate Dipoto to make a last-minute run at Price or Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels, both thought to be out of reach for an Angels system lacking in high-end prospects. Asked whether he was close to making any kind of trade Thursday, Dipoto said, "Not at all."
The Angels had already addressed their most glaring need, upgrading a beleaguered bullpen with earlier acquisitions of Grilli, left-hander Joe Thatcher and closer Huston Street.
"I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't a little surprised at the volume of moves and their magnificence," Dipoto said. "It's fun for the fans. It's fun for different organizations. A lot of good teams got better. But we didn't sit on the sidelines and not take part. We made our moves earlier in July and in late June."
The Angels' rotation took a hit Thursday when Tyler Skaggs, who did not allow a hit through 42/3 innings, was pulled in the fifth because of a forearm strain, an injury that could push the left-hander to the disabled list.
Skaggs said doctors told him his ulnar collateral ligament "was fine, at the moment," but he will undergo an MRI test Friday.
The Angels should get a boost from the return of left-hander C.J. Wilson, who has been sidelined since July 10 by a right-ankle sprain and will pitch Saturday at Tampa Bay.
"When C.J. is right, he's a legitimate top-half-of-the-rotation guy," Dipoto said. "When we line up C.J. with Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago, we're very comfortable with that group. C.J. is a key ingredient for us."
But he's not Lester, the 30-year-old left-hander who went 10-7 with a 2.52 earned-run average in 21 starts for the Red Sox.
Lester is also 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 13 career postseason games. He is 4-2 with a 4.44 ERA in eight regular-season starts against the Angels, 1-1 with a 1.35 ERA in three playoff starts against them.
"He makes their pitching staff that much better," Angels center fielder Mike Trout said. "We always have a tough battle against Lester, and now he's in our division. But when we're rolling, going good, we can beat anybody. That's our mentality."
The Angels are two games behind Oakland, and they play the A's 10 more times, so they'll see plenty of Lester. But Manager Mike Scioscia didn't think the trade changed the dynamic of the race.
"They were good yesterday, and they're good today — we knew that," Scioscia said of the A's. "We have a really good team. Our focus has to be on us continuing to play at a high level and continuing to improve.
"Right now, our offense is not firing on all cylinders, but we're pitching well and playing good defense. We really like our team."
On the plus side for the Angels, they may actually score from second base on a hit to left field against the Athletics.
Cespedes threw out two runners at the plate in the second inning of an 11-3 win over the Angels on May 31, and in a June 10 game, he airmailed a 300-foot throw from the corner — Scioscia called it a "guided missile" — to nail Howie Kendrick at the plate.
But the Angels also play the Red Sox seven times this month, with four games (Aug. 18-21) in Fenway Park, where the Green Monster in left field is only 315 feet from home plate.
"When he plays left field in Boston," Trout said, "he's probably going to be throwing people out on singles."
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