SEATTLE — As frustrating as this season has been for the Angels, with their offense sputtering for the first six weeks and their pitching staff underachieving for a lengthy stretch of July and August, they finally appear to be hitting their stride.
They staged an improbable comeback against one of baseball’s best pitchers Saturday, scoring four runs in the eighth inning off Seattle ace Felix Hernandez for a 5-2 victory over the Mariners in Safeco Field, giving them nine wins in 11 games and only their third win in 53 games when trailing after seven innings.
The rotation has stabilized, Ervin Santana continuing a run of strong starts with Saturday’s seven-inning, two-run, four-hit effort. The bullpen, so ineffective for much of August, has not allowed a run in 11 innings of the last five games, Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri (17th save) closing out Saturday’s win.
And an offense that since June 1 has ranked first in the major leagues in average (.288), on-base percentage (.348), runs per game (5.4) and slugging (.472) and second in homers (115) continues to roll, extending to six games its streak of scoring in the first inning.
“That room has a lot of heart, a lot of character, and you’re seeing it as we start to pitch better,” Manager Mike Scioscia said after the Angels moved to within 21/2 games of the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild-card spot.
“When you get that nice combination of the offense doing what we had anticipated, with the defense supporting our pitchers pitching to their capabilities, you should get the results we’re seeing these last few games.”
Hernandez, a leading candidate for the American League Cy Young Award, had been 9-0 with a 1.40 earned-run average in his previous 14 starts, including a perfect game against Tampa Bay on Aug. 15, and he hadn’t lost since June 12.
But the Angels are like Kryptonite to the right-hander, who is now 6-11 with a 3.89 ERA in 28 career starts against them and failed to hold leads on May 26 (loss) and Aug. 10 (no decision) against them.
“It’s hard coming back against Felix — he’s one of the best pitchers in the game,” said Torii Hunter, who had three more hits Saturday and is 13 for 17 in his last four games. “When the Mariners get ahead and he’s on the mound, we knew we had an uphill battle.”
The Angels trailed, 2-1, when Mike Trout opened the eighth with a single to right and took third on Hunter’s single to center. Albert Pujols followed with a hard grounder that skipped by third baseman Kyle Seager for an error, Trout scoring for a 2-2 tie, Hunter taking third and Pujols second.
Kendrys Morales grounded out to shortstop, the runners holding, and up stepped Mark Trumbo, who has been mired in a six-week slump that had dropped his average from .309 on July 18 to .278 entering Saturday.
Hernandez struck out Trumbo in the first and sixth innings, and with first base open, the Angels slugger was hardly surprised the Mariners pitched to him.
“I think the results lately speak for themselves,” Trumbo said.
Hernandez jammed Trumbo with a 94-mph sinking fastball and broke his bat, but Trumbo got enough of the pitch to hit a two-run single to left for a 4-2 lead. Howie Kendrick greeted reliever Stephen Pryor with an RBI double for a 5-2 lead.
“My whole thing now is trying to be present when I need to be,” Trumbo said. “I’m trying to take it one pitch at a time, don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Just allow my ability to come out instead of trying to force it.”