What a tangled web the three American League West contenders are weaving, the Angels, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers separated by just two games in a wild race that may be decided with a photo finish.
The Angels made sure they stayed in the picture Monday night with their 11th walk-off win of the season, David Murphy delivering a bases-loaded, run-scoring single to left field in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Angels to a 5-4 victory over the last-place Oakland Athletics.
The Angels’ sixth straight win — the last three decided by one run — and ninth win in 11 games kept them within a half-game of Houston for the second AL wild-card spot and moved them to within two games of Texas for the division lead with six games left.
Houston, which beat Seattle, 3-2, is in second place, 1 1/2 games behind the Rangers, who lost to Detroit, 7-4. The Angels close the regular season with four games at Texas, beginning Thursday night.
“We’re hanging in there,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’re grinding it out and getting some clutch hits, which obviously help you win. These guys are putting everything they have into every pitch and every out and every play. There’s a lot of guys contributing.”
With the score tied, 4-4, C.J. Cron led off the ninth with a single off A’s reliever Edward Mujica and was replaced by pinch-runner Collin Cowgill.
David Freese fought off an 0-and-2 pitch and hit a dribbler in front of the plate that Mujica fielded, but the reliever’s throw hit Freese in the back and caromed into a camera well, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Shane Victorino was walked intentionally to load the bases.
Scioscia sent Murphy up to hit for Chris Iannetta, and Oakland Manager Bob Melvin countered with left-hander Fernando Abad. Murphy stroked a 2-2 pitch through a drawn-in infield for his game-winner.
“Just tried to slow things down and see the ball and put a good swing on it,” said Murphy, who doesn’t normally hit against left-handers. “It’s huge. I could definitely feel the energy and the excitement more, especially with the way the team has been playing and the way everything has gone.”
Johnny Giavotella and Erick Aybar hit run-scoring doubles in the third inning, Chris Iannetta hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth, and Albert Pujols tied the game, 4-4, with a solo homer — his 38th of the season — to left in the sixth.
A patchwork Angels bullpen that is missing injured closer Huston Street and setup man Joe Smith recorded the final 10 outs while allowing one inherited runner to score.
The latest step-up performance came from right-hander Cam Bedrosian, who mixed a 98-mph fastball and nasty breaking ball to strike out Brett Lawrie with a runner on second to end the seventh and Danny Valencia and Billy Butler to open the eighth.
Bedrosian gave up a two-out single to pinch-hitter Josh Reddick in the eighth and was pulled in favor of Trevor Gott, who got Marcus Semien to ground to shortstop to end the inning and preserve the 4-4 tie.
Gott pitched around Coco Crisp’s leadoff single in the ninth, retiring the next three batters to keep the Angels even and earn the win.
“We knew our bullpen was good, and they’ve taken over some big roles right now,” said starter Hector Santiago, who allowed three earned runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings. “They have big shoes to fill, but those guys were lights out in the sixth and seventh.”
Giavotella also made two superb diving backhand stops of grounders at second and throws to first to retire Craig Gentry in the second and Bryan Anderson in the fifth.
Center fielder Mike Trout raced to the wall to catch Semien’s bases-loaded drive to end the first, and after the A’s scored twice to take a 4-3 lead in the sixth, right fielder Kole Calhoun prevented a bigger inning by gunning down Semien, who was trying to go from first to third on Crisp’s single, to end the inning.
Asked if he sensed something special is happening, Santiago said, “It seems like it, right? It definitely looks like it. We’re playing great baseball right now, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Right-hander Nick Tropeano (2-2, 4.35 earned-run average) will oppose Oakland right-hander Chris Bassitt (1-7, 3.07) at Angel Stadium on Tuesday at 7 p.m. TV: FS West, ESPN; Radio: 830, 1330.