The Angels knew Dan Haren well from the 21/2 years he spent in Anaheim from 2010 to 2012, and the right-hander they remember did not jibe with the one who went 0-5 with a 10.03 earned-run average in his previous five starts and was on the verge of being bumped from the Dodgers rotation.
So they probably weren’t as shocked as most Dodgers followers were Wednesday night when Haren took a perfect game into the sixth inning and limited the Angels to one run and three hits in 71/3 innings of the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory at Angel Stadium.
“With a guy like him, you disregard the past few starts, because on any day, he can step on the mound and do what he did tonight,” Angels catcher Hank Conger said. “He’s a proven pitcher. He’s been an elite pitcher for a long time. He knows what he’s doing out there.”
The Angels had faced a series of heavyweights since the All-Star break, with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Felix Hernandez — who have six Cy Young Awards between them — among their opponents in the previous 17 games.
But Haren, who gave up 26 earned runs and 36 hits, including six home runs, in 231/3 innings of his previous five starts, used the deft touch of a featherweight champion Wednesday, keeping the Angels off-balance with an array of off-speed pitches, nothing faster than 90 mph.
Moving his cut fastball, split-fingered fastball and slow slider around the strike zone, Haren struck out four and walked none while stifling an offense that ranks second in the American League in runs and third in average.
Haren did not go to a three-ball count until the fifth inning, when he threw three straight balls to Howie Kendrick before rebounding to strike out the Angels second baseman.
“Dan mixed it up well tonight,” Kendrick said. “The cutter was working, the slow slider. We’ve been swinging the bats well. For him to do what he did tonight was pretty impressive.”
Haren retired the first 16 batters with an assist from second baseman Dee Gordon, who made a diving stop of Conger’s grounder to his left and, from the seat of his pants in shallow right field, threw to first for an out in the third. The Dodgers scored twice against Matt Shoemaker in the second, one on Matt Kemp’s home run.
Asked when he started thinking about a perfect game, Haren said, “I’ve just been trying to have a perfect inning, honestly.”
Conger broke up Haren’s perfect game with a clean one-out single to left in the sixth, and he took off for second on a full-count pitch that pinch-hitter David Freese lined into center field for a single.
The Angels have advanced from first to third on singles a major league-leading 85 times, and Conger did not hesitate around second as he headed for third.
But Dodgers center fielder Yasiel Puig charged the ball, fielded it cleanly and fired a one-hop rocket to third baseman Justin Turner, who applied the tag on Conger for the second out. Calhoun lined out to first to end the inning.
“I knew he had a good arm, but in that situation, we didn’t have much offense, I was trying to go from first to third,” Conger said. “I didn’t think it was a risk. I was running with the pitch.
“By time I hit second I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got this.’ I was running hard. If there was any doubt in my mind, I wouldn’t have gone. It took a perfect throw. But he’s got a cannon and showed it off tonight.”
The Angels threatened off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth when Kole Calhoun led off with a single and stole second.
But Jansen struck out Trout with a 96-mph fastball, got Albert Pujols to fly to center and struck out Josh Hamilton with a high fastball for his 32nd save to help the Dodgers maintain their 21/2-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West and preserve the win for Haren (9-9).
“It was good to see him with a smile on his face when you took him out, instead of him feeling like he was letting everyone down,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said of Haren. “It bothered him. That’s the one thing you want out of your guys. You want them to care. Danny cares.
“Hopefully, this is the start of something good.”