Pujols, bullpen helps Angels defeat Mariners
SEATTLE -- The Los Angeles Angels have certainly won the battle of the bullpens against the Seattle Mariners in this series.
Albert Pujols hit a two-run double to break a tie in the eighth inning and Angels relievers combined for four scoreless innings for the second straight night in a 6-3 victory Saturday at Safeco Field.
The Angels (60-58) won their fifth straight game and took sole possession of the American League’s second and final wild-card berth.
The Mariners (59-59) lost their third in a row. They are tied with Tampa Bay and Kansas City, one game behind the Angels, and one-half game behind Minnesota.
Keynan Middleton (4-0), an Oregon native pitching in front of family and friends, retired the only batter he faced, getting Nelson Cruz on a broken-bat groundout to end the seventh, to claim his second victory in as many days.
After Blake Parker pitched a scoreless eighth, Cam Bedrosian did the same in the ninth for his fifth save of the season.
“We just know at some point we’re going to get the ball every night,” Middleton said. “We’re going to do our jobs because we’re in this and going to make this wild-card thing exciting.”
The Angels’ bullpen is 3-0 and has allowed three runs in 10 1/3 innings in the series. Mariners relievers are 0-3 and have allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in 10 2/3 innings.
“Our bullpen ... these guys keep taking the ball and making pitches. Keynan did a great job on Cruz,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’re not going to get there (the postseason) unless the bullpen is pitching as it has. They’ve been very effective.”
The Angels’ winning rally came in the eighth, an inning earlier than the previous two nights.
Ben Revere and Mike Trout walked to open the eighth against Mariners reliever Tony Zych (5-3). Pujols then lined a shot into left-center field that rolled to the wall, scoring both runners. After Kole Calhoun singled to right, Pujols scored on a sacrifice fly by Andrelton Simmons.
“Obviously, it didn’t end the way we were hoping,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Tony Zych has kind have been our guy in that spot but the walks hurt. We’ve had a few of those over the past few nights. Didn’t get it done, didn’t execute pitches and they came back and got us. ... We’ve got to find a way to finish games.”
Trailing 3-1, the Angels tied it in the seventh when Luis Valbuena hit a two-run homer off reliever Casey Lawrence. It was Valbuena’s 12th homer of the season and his 12th career against Seattle in 159 at-bats.
“Luis is going to drive the ball, he’s going to take walks when they’re there,” Scioscia said of Valbuena, who is batting .187. “He’s hit some big home runs, that’s a huge home run tonight to get us back in the game.”
The Mariners’ bullpen spoiled an outstanding start by Erasmo Ramirez, who allowed an unearned run and three hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out one.
The Mariners nearly regained the lead in the bottom of the inning as Yonder Alonso hit a one-out single to right field and tried to score on Robinson Cano’s double into right-center field. But Alonso was thrown out at the plate by a strong relay throw from Simmons.
“Throwing out Alonso is a huge play,” Scioscia said. “You’ve got two tremendous arms in Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons ... and (catcher) Martin Maldonado made a nice pick and tag. That’s a huge play for us at the time, no doubt.”
That wasn’t the only out on the bases for the Mariners, who saw Jarrod Dyson and Leonys Martin get caught stealing in the sixth inning, the latter being picked off.
The Mariners opened the scoring in the third after Martin led off with a walk. Two outs later, Cano also walked before Nelson Cruz lined a run-scoring single to left field. Kyle Seager followed with a run-scoring single to right.
The Angels got one run back in the fifth, thanks to some slopping fielding.
C.J. Cron led off with a double to left-center field, but it appeared he’d be stranded when Valbuena grounded out and Maldonado flied out to shallow right.
Cron, who had moved to third on the groundout, scored when Kaleb Cowart, the No. 9 batter in the lineup, hit a grounder to Alonso at first base. Although he had plenty of time to make an underhand toss to Ramirez, Alonso tried to flip the ball from his glove. The flip was high and caromed off Ramirez’s glove, allowing Cowart to reach on the error and the Angels to pull within 2-1.
The Mariners regained the two-run advantage with two outs in the bottom of the inning as Seager hit a solo homer to right-center field, his 18th home run of the season.
JC Ramirez went five innings for the Angels, allowing three runs and seven hits. He walked three and struck out four.
NOTES: The Mariners retired hitting coach Edgar Martinez’s jersey No. 11 in a pregame ceremony. ... The Ramirez vs. Ramirez matchup was the first time Nicaraguan-born starting pitchers faced each other since 1984. ... The Angels activated RHP Andrew Bailey, who spent four months on the disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder. Bailey was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in three appearances before being sidelined. To make room on the roster for Bailey, OF Cesar Puello was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake. ... The Mariners selected the contract of RHP Christian Bergman from Triple-A Tacoma and optioned rookie RHP Andrew Moore back to Tacoma. Moore was called up a day earlier, giving up four runs and six hits in 1 2/3 innings of his first career relief appearance Friday night. ... Angels RHP Parker Bridwell (6-1, 3.00 ERA) is scheduled to face Mariners LHP Ariel Miranda (7-5, 4.65) on Sunday afternoon in the finale of the four-game series.