Morales’ 3 RBIs lead Angels to skid-snapping win
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—With a few timely hits and a few more timely outs by their bullpen Sunday, the Los Angeles Angels made certain they’ll welcome the Texas Rangers on Monday with a simple formula to seal their playoff fate.
One win and they’re in.
Morales had three hits and Mike Napoli(notes) also homered for the Angels (91-64), who blew most of an early five-run lead before hanging on for their first victory since last Monday, putting them on the brink of their fifth AL West title in six years.
While the Angels finished up with Brian Fuentes’(notes) 45th save, second-place Texas was simultaneously blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning of a 7-6 loss to Tampa Bay. Those results reduced Los Angeles’ magic number to two for clinching its third straight division title—and probably a first-round matchup with Boston for the third straight season.
“We’ve never had an opportunity to clinch with the team that’s right behind us on the field with us,” said Joe Saunders(notes), who won for the sixth time in seven starts. “It’s going to be intense, that’s for sure. We control our own destiny, and we know what’s in front of us.”
The Angels blew a seven-run lead during Saturday’s 15-10 loss to the A’s, but Los Angeles’ bullpen escaped two big late-inning jams in this series finale. After Darren Oliver(notes) and Kevin Jepsen(notes) both wiggled out of trouble, Fuentes coolly reclaimed the major league saves lead.
“You want to take care of your own house, your own business, and it’s something we haven’t been doing a good job of this month,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who claimed not to know his club’s magic number before the game. “It doesn’t matter that the team coming in is chasing you. We still have to play like we did today.”
Saunders (15-7) pitched six scoreless innings for Los Angeles before falling apart in the seventh, allowing the first five batters to reach base as Oakland trimmed the Angels’ big lead to 5-3. The A’s got within one run in the eighth on pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy’s(notes) sacrifice fly, but Maicer Izturis(notes) hit a two-run double later in the inning for Los Angeles.
“They look strong to me,” Kennedy said of his former team. “Everybody’s playing pretty consistent, so I think it’ll be a little different story this year. Their starting pitching is in line, and their offense is a little stronger and a little more mature.”
Edgar Gonzalez (0-4) remained winless in six starts for the A’s, yielding seven hits and five runs in five innings. Mark Ellis(notes) and Cliff Pennington(notes) had two hits apiece for last-place Oakland, which had won 13 of 16 as the majors’ best team in September.
“We’ve got a little bit to go,” said Jack Cust(notes), who struck out against Jepsen to end the eighth. “They’re a really good team over there, and they’ve been on top of the division for a while. But anytime you’ve got pitching like we have, with young guys who should be around here for a while … we can make a push.”
Morales followed an RBI single in the first with a two-run homer in the third, hitting an 0-2 pitch deep into right field for his 32nd homer. The Cuban first baseman has 102 RBIs in his first full major league season, becoming the first Angels first baseman to reach three digits since Mo Vaughn in 2000.
“When the season started, I kind of thought 25 (homers) and 80 (RBIs) would be good things to shoot for,” Morales said through a translator. “I’m not going to complain about overshooting those goals.”
Saunders yielded seven hits and didn’t walk a batter until the seventh. He has been outstanding since returning from a brief stint on the disabled list to rest his left shoulder, muscling his way back into Los Angeles’ playoff rotation.
Saunders was thoroughly in control during the first six innings, allowing just one runner to reach third base and retiring 10 straight before the seventh, when Ellis’ single started a three-run rally. Saunders was chased by Landon Powell’s(notes) RBI single, but Oliver escaped a bases-loaded jam by inducing Rajai Davis’(notes) double-play grounder.
NOTES: The Rangers had won five straight series against Los Angeles before the Angels took two of three last week. … Ellis’ error on a relay throw from the outfield in the eighth inning was Oakland’s 11th error in five games. The A’s have made at least one error in a season-high nine straight games. … Gonzalez hit Angels LF Juan Rivera(notes) with pitches in each of his first two plate appearances, with the second incident prompting visible anger from Rivera.