Angels look like themselves in victory over Yankees

Maybe it was Manager Mike Scioscia’s motivational speech the day before. Maybe their bodies were better adjusted to the Eastern time zone. Or maybe it was the tone set by pitcher Joel Pineiro, who pounded the strike zone early and often.

Whatever the reason, or reasons, the Angels looked, felt and played like a different team in Wednesday’s 5-3 victory over the New York Yankees, a game that bore little resemblance to the wobbly performances that preceded it in this 3-6 season.

“We had a little more energy, a little more fire today,” center fielder Torii Hunter said. “I saw something different with the pitching staff, offensively with the hitters, and on defense too. That’s our game. That wasn’t us the last seven games or so.”

Even Pineiro, who subdued one of baseball’s best lineups, yielding one run and five hits in seven innings, striking out seven and walking none, noticed a return to normalcy, and his Angels career is only two starts old.

“We were scuffling a bit and needed someone to give us a quality start,” said Pineiro, the former St. Louis Cardinals right-hander who has not walked a batter in 14 of his last 34 starts. “We got some early runs, stole some bases … that’s Angels baseball.”

The rotation combined for a 1-6 record and an American League-worst 5.91 earned-run average before Pineiro’s gem, in which the sinkerball specialist whiffed cleanup batter Alex Rodriguez three times and induced 11 ground-ball outs.

“When you’re facing high-production offenses like New York and Boston, it’s not just throwing strikes, you have to put pitches in good locations,” Scioscia said. “Joel pounded the zone in good spots, and he moved the ball around. To strike out seven, you know he was making good pitches.”

The Angels, known for their aggressive baserunning, had one stolen base in their first eight games, but Brandon Wood sparked a two-run rally in the third with a single and a stolen base. Erick Aybar (single) and Bobby Abreu (double) drove in runs in the inning.

A lack of clutch hitting has slowed the Angels, but Kendry Morales hit a one-out RBI double and Maicer Izturis hit a two-out, RBI single in the sixth, and Hunter’s two-out RBI single in the seventh gave the Angels a 5-1 lead.

The first three hitters in the lineup, Aybar, Abreu and Hunter, combined to go six for 14 with three runs and three RBIs.

Angels relievers surrendered 16 earned runs in the previous 13 1/3 innings, and it appeared that trend would continue when Scot Shields allowed the three batters he faced to start the eighth to reach base, with two of them eventually scoring.

But Kevin Jepsen came on to snuff out the rally, surviving a full-count pitch on the outside corner to Rodriguez that was called ball four, and getting Robinson Cano on a fielder’s-choice grounder and striking out Jorge Posada with the tying runs on base to end the inning.

Fernando Rodney, filling in for injured closer Brian Fuentes, threw a one-two-three ninth, and Wood, the Angels’ third baseman, made nice catches after long runs into foul territory to retire Mark Teixeira in the sixth and Curtis Granderson in the ninth.

“We feel like we just played the game today — we were a little more relaxed in the box,” catcher Jeff Mathis said.

Scioscia’s speech after Tuesday’s 7-5 loss to the Yankees “was some of it,” Mathis said. “He reminded us that it’s just a game, like any we played last year or five years ago. Relax and play it.”