As they find stride, Halos know time on their side
ANAHEIM -- Ernesto Frieri, the Angels' colorful relief pitcher, was on Twitter the other night, chatting up his followers. He's that kind of guy, a closer with an open mind.
"I was talking to the fans, and people said, `You know when you had that streak and won eight games in a row? Why don't you do it again, and keep it going?' And I said, `Yeah, but it's better to beat the Dodgers.'
"We know how big these games are for the fans. The Dodgers have a great team. They got the first two in their place, and we came back to the Big A and took care of business."
Jason Vargas, Mr. May, gave the Angels seven strong innings, and Garrett Richards and Frieri took care of the last six outs of a 3-2 victory. Fueled by Howie Kendrick's bat and legs, it gave manager Mike Scioscia's club a split of the Interleague home-and-home series with the Dodgers.
It appears on the outside as if the two Los Angeles outfits are merely spinning their wheels, going nowhere fast. But there are sound reasons why those living inside the two clubhouses believe both these high-salaried troupes can get it together and make pushes that will keep their fans as animated as they were during these four spirited games at the end of May.
"We're playing great," Frieri said. "We showed what we can do when we won those eight in a row, and we can do it again."
Jered Weaver, Vargas' former Long Beach State teammate, brought his competitive fires back into the mix on Wednesday night, lifting the Angels' emotions with six knockout innings.
Twenty-four hours earlier, at Dodger Stadium, Hyun-Jin Ryu had spun a two-hit shutout to underscore the Dodgers' belief that they own two of the game's premier lefties now. Clayton Kershaw didn't get a crack at the Angels in either series, but he'll be back at work in Denver on Friday, to be followed by Zack Greinke and Ryu.
Even something seemingly as discouraging as Matt Kemp going to the 15-day disabled list with a hamstring strain on Thursday might turn out to be a disguised blessing.
It will give the Dodgers' short-circuited slugger time to catch his breath, clear his mind and perhaps find that lift that's been missing in his power stroke. Focusing on his swing in solitude, away from the madding crowds, might be the remedy he needs.
The Dodgers are 22-30, but they haven't been dismissed from class in the National League West. They own too many assets to be disregarded by the defending champion Giants, not to mention the D-backs, Rockies and Padres.
The Angels are 25-29, 8 1/2 games behind the front-running Rangers and 5 1/2 behind the A's in the American League West. As Mike Trout put it, beaming, "We're getting there." He's no grizzled veteran, but the kid knows that 54 games played means 108 remain -- and that's a lot of time to make up ground.
What the Angels need to do -- and it couldn't hurt the Dodgers, either -- is take the approach Kendrick advocates.
"You're playing a game," Kendrick said. "That's what we sometimes lose sight of as players. Look at it as a game, not as work, something we have to do.
"We've been playing good baseball, and having a lot of fun, too. Guys are relaxed, enjoying themselves and each other. Even in tight games and situations, we've been pulling through, coming up with big hits from different guys. That's exciting.
"I can't even tell you how many games Texas or any other team has won or lost. I don't think anybody in here can tell you, except maybe one or two guys. We're just going out to play and focus on winning."
Kendrick tripled, doubled and scored all three Angels runs behind the smart, tough-minded Vargas, who was 5-0 in six May starts after going 0-3 in April.
One of only four players left from the Angels' great 2009 club, Kendrick is in his eighth season, in the middle of a good career. He's hitting .304 with seven homers, 29 RBIs, his slugging percentage of .464 among the highest at his position.
He's been solid with the glove, and he can run. He used his wheels -- and his instincts -- to produce a sixth-inning run that proved to be the difference on Thursday night.
After stroking a double to right in the sixth inning against Ted Lilly, Kendrick took off for third with Chris Iannetta at the plate. His steal was his fifth of the year, and it became a run on newcomer Chris Nelson's infield single off reliever Ronald Belisario after Iannetta's walk.
"Those guys weren't holding me on and they gave me the green light," Kendrick said. "Getting to third changes the situation."
The Angels need to do more of that kind of thing, reclaim their identity as an assertive, aggressive club.
Richards, as cool as Frieri is fiery, set down the Dodgers in the eighth in order. Then the closer shook off some recent struggles to finish the job with premium heat after Jerry Hairston's leadoff single in the ninth.
"We're having a good time now," Frieri said. "This is so much better than the way we were at the start. We're a much better team now. The second month is gone now -- four to go. That's a lot of games left, and we're going to keep getting better and keep winning.
"We're going to perform on the field and be the team we know we can be."
It sounded like a promise, Twitter fans.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.