There was a sense of urgency in the Angels clubhouse Friday that didn’t seem to exist in April, May, June and early July. Coming out of the All-Star break with an 11-game deficit and division-leading Oakland in town may have been just the jolt the club needed.
“It’s the second half, every game is critical,” said slugger Albert Pujols, normally among the most even-keeled of Angels. “It’s not like there is tomorrow. Before you know it, it’s September. We have to win as many games as we can.”
They got a good start Friday night, pairing another superb Jered Weaver effort against the Athletics with solo home runs by Pujols, Erick Aybar and Mike Trout in a 4-1 victory that kicked off a stretch in which the Angels play 13 of 20 games against Oakland and Texas.
“We dug ourselves a big hole,” Mike Scioscia said after becoming the 39th manager (fifth active) in major league history with 1,200 victories. “We know what we’re up against, but we also know it’s doable. We have a lot of confidence that when we get our team going the way we can, we can get there.”
Having their ace back — Weaver (4-5) missed seven weeks of April and May because of a broken left elbow — and pitching the way he’s capable of will help.
Weaver gave up four hits over 62/3 scoreless innings, striking out eight and walking four, to extend his scoreless streak against Oakland to 242/3 innings and improve to 7-1 with a 0.84 earned-run average against the A’s since 2011. The right-hander caught a break when Oakland slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who won Tuesday night’s home run derby, was a late scratch because of a sore left wrist, but considering how sharp Weaver’s slider and changeup were, it might not have mattered. Of Weaver’s season-high 118 pitches, 71 were strikes.
“You match up well against certain teams, and I’ve had some success against them, but you can’t stay one way,” Weaver said. “I was able to work the inside part of the plate more. I wanted to mix in some heaters in to keep those guys off the outer half of the plate. And the slider was really effective.”
The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the first when J.B. Shuck reached on an infield single and took second on an error, Trout walked and Josh Hamilton flared a run-scoring double off the glove of diving right fielder Josh Reddick.
Pujols lined his 16th homer of the season and 491st of his career to left field in the third for a 2-0 lead, which catcher Chris Iannetta, who has thrown out only six of 61 base-stealers this season, helped preserve when, with two on and two out in the fifth, he picked off John Jaso at first to end the inning.
Aybar then wrapped his fourth homer of the season around the right-field foul pole to lead off the bottom of the fifth, and Trout lined his 16th homer to left with one out to make it 4-0.
Angels left-hander Scott Downs got the last out of the seventh, extending his scoreless streak to 161/3 innings over 27 appearances, and Dane De La Rosa threw a scoreless eighth. Oakland nicked reliever Kevin Jepsen for a run on Chris Young’s RBI double in the eighth, but closer Ernesto Frieri, on his 28th birthday, struck out Seth Smith and got Eric Sogard and Coco Crisp to fly out for his 23rd save.
“Every game is big, especially against these guys,” Trout said.