Mike Trout punctuated his leadoff triple in the ninth inning Friday night with a head-first slide in which he skidded about 10 feet in the dirt, grabbing the bag with his left hand and pumping his right fist at the Angels dugout as he let out a primal scream.
An offense that managed one single in the previous seven innings had the precious spark it needed. Albert Pujols followed with a run-scoring single, and Joe Smith, sore left ankle and all, retired the side in order in the bottom of the ninth as the Angels held on for a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in Globe Life Park.
The Angels didn't gain ground on Houston in the race for the second American League wild-card spot, but they stayed within striking distance — one game back with two to play. They also moved one game ahead of Minnesota and prevented the Rangers from clinching their sixth division title.
"He's our leader, and when he's going good, it's hard to stop him," second baseman Johnny Giavotella said of Trout, who has shaken off an awful August (.218, one homer, seven runs batted in) to hit .304 with eight homers and 15 RBIs since Sept. 1.
"For him to get that big hit got the guys in the right mind-set that we need to win this game, and when he was pumping his fist, it gave us the energy to come out and play the best we can."
Texas closer Shawn Tolleson had a 1.64 earned-run average in his previous 33 games, but the Angels ambushed him in the ninth.
Trout, robbed of an extra-base hit in the sixth when right fielder Shin-Soo Choo made a running catch in the corner, smacked Tolleson's second pitch into the gap in right-center. Pujols looped Tolleson's next pitch into center, and the Angels improved to 34-17 in one-run games, 11-1 since Sept. 9.
Jered Weaver delivered one of his best starts of the season, allowing one run and two hits in six innings and working his way out of two jams, and relievers Trevor Gott, Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin and Smith retired nine of 10 batters.
"Our bullpen and pitching staff have been huge, keeping us in the game," Pujols said. "Everybody is tired and sore and has aches and pains. This is not the time to complain about that. This is the time to step up and give whatever we have in the tank and see where we are after Sunday."
Weaver hasn't had much in his tank during the worst season of his career (7-12, 4.64 ERA), but he seemed to dig into some untapped reserves Friday.
With the score tied, 1-1, in the fifth, Erick Aybar booted two straight grounders, a rarity for the usually sure-handed shortstop, and a double steal put runners at second and third with one out. Weaver struck out Chris Gimenez and got Delino DeShields to fly to left.
"You can't get frustrated because he's made so many incredible plays over the years to get me out of situations," Weaver said of Aybar. "He's picked me up a bunch of times. I had to pick him up tonight."
Choo, who hit a solo homer in the fourth, doubled in the sixth, and Adrian Beltre walked with one out. Left-handed hitters Mitch Moreland and Josh Hamilton were due up. Manager Mike Scioscia stuck with Weaver. "I think his off-speed stuff played well against them," Scioscia said. "He had the game feel, and his stuff was still where it was in the first inning."
Moreland hit a one-hop smash that Giavotella dived for and smothered, and he threw to second for the force. Hamilton flied out to center.
"It meant a lot, man," Weaver said of Scioscia's decision to stick with him. "I probably didn't have my best stuff, but I was able to keep them off balance and work out of some situations. Somebody was looking out for me tonight."