The Oakland Athletics have some company atop the American League West.
Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick hit solo home runs, Matt Shoemaker allowed two runs and four hits in 5 2/3innings to earn his 11th win, and Joe Smith and Huston Street provided lockdown relief as the Angels held on for a 5-4 victory over the Texas Rangers in Globe Life Park on Saturday night.
The Angels' fourth straight win, combined with Oakland's loss to Atlanta, moved the Angels (72-49) into a first-place tie with the A's (73-50), the first time since a 2013 season-opening win over the Cincinnati Reds — a span of 503 days — the Angels have led the division.
It's the first time since April 28 that the A's have not held sole possession of first place. It's also the deepest into a season the Angels have reached the top of the division for the first time, surpassing the 2002 World Series-winning team, which moved into a first-place tie with Seattle on July 26.
"There's a long way to go," Manager Mike Scioscia said, downplaying the significance of being in first place. "I think we're just starting the pennant race now, so you really want to chop it down pitch by pitch, inning by inning, and put your best game on the field every night."
Scioscia said his players have a "casual interest" in the scoreboard, but "nothing more than that," and that was reflected in Smith's response when asked the significance of leading the division.
"We're in first place?" he said. "All right. That's nice. I don't really pay attention to the standings. We have a lot of games left, 10 more against Oakland. The ultimate goal is to be in first place at the end of the year."
The Angels won Saturday with minimal contributions from Mike Trout, who was hitless in five at-bats and is batting .108 (four for 37) in his last nine games, his average falling to .289, and Josh Hamilton, who had a double and three strikeouts and is hitting .132 (five for 38) with 18 strikeouts in 10 games.
Scioscia kept Hamilton in the cleanup spot, but not for fear of offending him or damaging what little confidence he has. In fact, Hamilton told Scioscia last week in Anaheim he would be fine with being dropped in the batting order.
"I told him I was up for doing whatever he wants me to do," Hamilton said. "He said he wants to keep me in the fourth spot, to drive in guys who get on base. I said, 'All right.'"
Hamilton missed most of April and May because of a torn left thumb ligament, but he said the injury is "not an issue" in his current struggles. His weight, 228 pounds, is normal.
He recently went back to the toe-tap timing mechanism he used in Texas until 2010, and Hamilton thought that was a factor in the three homers he hit in seven games from July 29 to Aug. 4. But the power has dried up.
"There are no physical issues — that's the mind-boggling part of it," Hamilton said. "I honestly don't know what to tell you. I've thought of everything, I've worked on everything, and I know how the game works. It's all about results. If you figure out something to get me going, let me know."
Hamilton hit .285 with 43 homers and 128 RBIs in 2012, his last year with the Rangers, but he is clearly not the same player today.
"He's not in the batter's box with the confidence we know he has," Scioscia said. "We don't need him to do more than he's capable of, but we need him to do close to what he's capable of. Candidly, we haven't seen it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times