Angels wrap up May with a sweep of Detroit

Angels wrap up May with a sweep of Detroit
Angels catcher Chris Iannetta (17) is congratulated by teammate Kirk Nieuwenhuis after scoring on a single by Johnny Giavotella in the eighth inning against the Tigers on Sunday night in Anaheim. (Mark J. Terrill, AP)

Are these the Angels, finally? Or was the weekend a big tease?

The Angels have been in first place in the American League West for two days this season. They have been in third place as recently as Wednesday.


On the other hand, they just swept a four-game series from the mighty Detroit Tigers. They are back in second place, and they have crept within four games of the Houston Astros. They closed May on a 16-9 rush, and they are three games above .500 for the first time this season.

So, after the Angels won 4-2 on Sunday and outscored the Tigers 26-10 in the series, would the Angels say this was just a good weekend, or a sneak preview of an exciting summer?

"I don't want to say, 'This is the definitive moment. Here we go,'" closer Huston Street said. "I think, as a group, we can definitely start to feel something start to galvanize."

The Angels scored 12 runs on Thursday. They hit five home runs in two innings on Saturday. They gave up two runs or fewer on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

And ace Garrett Richards did not pitch in the series, setup man Joe Smith had a stiff neck, shortstop Erick Aybar sat out two games because of a tight hamstring, and first baseman Albert Pujols was limited to designated hitter for two games because of a sore groin.

Street said the Tigers series put on display the capabilities the Angels already know they have — a team that can not only win the division and go beyond simply getting into the playoffs.

"We have a team that can contend with any other team in baseball," Street said.

Manager Mike Scioscia went with the "it is what it is" meaning of the sweep.

"We don't have a crystal ball," Scioscia said. "There's no doubt we played a really good club this weekend and played good baseball. That's the important thing.

"We don't have to overthink this."

Scioscia managed Sunday as if the game were more than just another regular-season game. He juggled five pitchers, used his backup catcher as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and would have had one man — outfielder Matt Joyce — on the bench had the game gone into extra innings.

The Angels' luck had to turn. In the sixth inning, with two on and two out in a 2-2 tie, Johnny Giavotella hit a line drive that Tigers ace David Price caught as he turned his head.

"It's the most frustrating thing in the sport," Giavotella said. "You do everything right, but you still fail."

In the seventh, Mike Trout hit a line drive right at Price — and the Tigers' ace caught that one too. Replays caught Trout laughing at the absurdity of it all.


In the eighth, with the score still tied 2-2, the Angels loaded the bases with two out. Price left after 121 pitches — his highest total in two years — and Giavotella grounded a two-run single behind second base. No line drive, but the game-winning runs nonetheless.

Trout and Pujols might have the marquee names, but Giavotella has driven in the winning run in seven of the Angels' 27 victories.

"Late in the game, we want Johnny up," pitcher Matt Shoemaker said.

In his 29 at-bats in so-called "late and close" situations — seventh inning or later, with a one-run lead at best and the potential tying run on deck at worst — Giavotella is batting .517.

"It seems like he gets big hit after big hit for us," Scioscia said.

The Angels could get on a roll now. They play their next 19 games against teams no better than one game over .500.

The recipe for success, catcher Chris Iannetta said, is to maintain this level — three games over .500 — and throw in a few modest winning streaks along the way. A four-game winning streak here, a five-game streak there, he said, and the Angels could finish 20 games over .500.

That would translate to a 91-71 record. The Astros are on pace to win 98.

"It's a race to 90 wins," Iannetta said. "That is what is going to win the division."

Twitter: @BillShaikin