The Angels are still not healthy, still receiving lackluster seasons from an array of hitters, still struggling to capture the public's interest, still unlikely to actually qualify for the postseason.
But they are undeniably making this thing interesting. They secured their fourth straight victory and sixth in seven tries Friday, scoring six unanswered runs to come back to beat Oakland 8-6 at Angel Stadium. They are 55-55, and only two games separate them from playoff position.
"Better late than never," said Ben Revere, who scored Friday's winning run.
It has become the team's refrain this summer, enjoyed because of its duality: "We're still in it."
Applicable to their 32 comeback victories and to their playoff odds, the Angels cite it in interviews and tell it to their pregame visitors during batting practice, a subtle reminder to one another that they can yet contend in 2017. With each passing week, the idea appears more plausible. They do not have to play particularly good games, especially while hosting Philadelphia, Oakland and Baltimore on this homestand. They can always come back, as they did Friday.
After Mike Trout hit an infield single to short in the first inning, Albert Pujols tapped into an inning-ending double play. It was the 351st double-play groundout of his career, which holds grand significance. It broke Pujols' tie with Cal Ripken and staked him alone to the all-time record.
Making the first start of his career, the Angels' Troy Scribner did not give up a hit until the second inning. It was a three-run home run to Matt Chapman — a walk and an error preceded it — that gave the Athletics an early lead. The Angels made it 3-2 with three singles, two errors, a sacrifice fly, and a hit by pitch in their half of the second. With the bases loaded and two out, Trout flied out to left field.
Over the next three innings, they mustered two baserunners — both on doubles, by Trout and Kole Calhoun. Neither man advanced.
Meantime, Scribner continued to struggle with his command. When he walked the first two Athletics who batted in the fifth, manager Mike Scioscia pulled him in favor of fellow rookie Keynan Middleton, who got a strikeout but then yielded back-to-back hits, the latter scoring two runs. Scioscia called on deposed starter Jesse Chavez for the next two innings, and Chavez surrendered another run.
Oakland led 6-2 until an Andrelton Simmons walk started the Angels' sixth-inning rally. Revere continued it with a single through to right field. After C.J. Cron and Martin Maldonado hit into outs, Cliff Pennington shot a single into center, scoring two to halve Oakland's lead. Yunel Escobar singled and Trout walked, loading the bases for Pujols.
He popped out in foul territory, but his teammates strung together another rally in the seventh. To begin, Calhoun, Simmons and Revere drew consecutive walks against Oakland left-hander Daniel Coulombe, precipitating his exit. Against right-hander Blake Treinen, the Angels did not immediately fare as well. Cron swung at every pitch he saw and struck out on three pitches.
Up next, pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena punched a sinker into left field to drive in two and tie the score.
Pennington grounded to second for a forceout of Valbuena but got the go-ahead run to third base. Escobar dribbled a grounder to third base, where Chapman fielded it in time to record the final out. But Chapman bobbled the baseball and could not recover — the Angels had their lead.
Trout added a run to it with a bloop single, the team's fourth hit in 18 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"We had tons of guys on tonight," Scioscia said. "We only had four hits, but they were all big."
The Angels (55-55) gained a game in the American League wild-card chase. They now trail Kansas City by only two games for the second spot, and the New York Yankees by three games for the first.