The Angels were playing their 18th game in a grueling stretch of 20 games in 20 days, so Manager Mike Scioscia eased back on the throttle a bit Monday night, cancelling the traditional on-field batting practice to get his players off their feet and give them a mental break after a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.
That hardly disrupted the preparation or momentum of the Angels, who kept the pedal to the metal in a 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays that extended their winning streak to five games, improved them to 28-24 and kept them four games behind the first-place Houston Astros in the American League West.
The Angels were 23-24 before Detroit came to town, and they seemed to turn a corner against the Tigers, outscoring them, 26-10, and holding a lead for all but three innings of the series. But it wasn't just the lopsided numbers on the scoreboard that impressed Scioscia about his players.
"They were gritty. I liked the way they got after it in every aspect of the game, whether it was defense, pitching, clutch hitting, situational hitting, getting bunts down, stealing bases," Scioscia said. "Whatever we needed to do in a situation, we were able to do, and that's what we need to do to have long-term success."
The opponent changed Monday night, but the performance remained the same, the Angels throwing at the Rays about as complete a game as they've played this season.
Albert Pujols continued his power surge with a home run to left field in the fifth inning and a two-run shot to left in the eighth, giving the slugger five home runs in five games, 13 this season and his 49th multi-home run game.
And to think, Tampa Bay actually walked Mike Trout intentionally with runners on second base and third base in the sixth to face Pujols, who flied to center field to end that inning.
The reason the Rays didn't want to mess with Trout? The Angels center fielder crushed a game-breaking three-run home run to left-center field in the third inning, giving him 13 home runs this season and a team-leading 30 runs batted in.
"Either way, it's a good situation for us," Scioscia said. "Both of those guys are elite players, and if you have to pick your poison, it just makes us better. … Albert is a special player, and when he finds it, he usually keeps it for long periods of time."
David Freese hit a home run in the second inning, giving the Angels 14 home runs in six games and a sense that their offense has finally emerged from a lengthy season-opening funk.
"The homers are coming because they're due," Scioscia said. "We have guys who we know can swing the bat and hit the ball out of the park, and they're getting pitches and hitting them well. That's something we were missing for the first six weeks of the season, for sure."
Garrett Richards recovered from a shaky third and fourth innings, in which he gave up three runs and five hits, all coming with two outs, to deliver a six-inning, three-run, six-hit effort that improved the right-hander to 5-3.
Richards was backed by a solid defense that featured several strong plays by shortstop Erick Aybar and Freese, the Angels third baseman, and left-hander Jose Alvarez and right-handers Fernando Salas, Joe Smith and Cam Bedrosian combined for three innings of hitless relief.
"We're seeing a lot of good things happening on the field," Scioscia said. "This is the way we need to play, for sure. You're not always going to get four or five homers a game, but we need our lineup to get deeper to where we're pressuring teams on an inning by inning basis. When that happens, I think we're going to put up runs more consistently."