By Dan Arritt, The Sports Xchange
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The difference between the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers came down to two pitches Saturday night.
Justin Upton belted a pair of solo home runs off Texas left-hander Cole Hamels, and Angels starter Parker Bridwell and three relievers made the lead hold up in a 2-0 victory against the Rangers at Angel Stadium.
The victory pulled the Angels back within a game of the Minnesota Twins for the second American League wild-card spot.
“It came down to two swings of the bat from Justin and we held on,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Upton, acquired from the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 31, homered to deep left in the first inning off Hamels and off the top of the wall in center in the eighth. In between, the Texas veteran limited the Angels to no runs and two hits. Hamels (10-4) was lifted after the second home run by Upton.
“Just changed colors and picked up where he left off (in Detroit),” Scioscia said of Upton.
Bridwell (8-2) allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked two. He was removed after walking Joey Gallo to start the seventh with his 90th pitch.
“I executed pitches really well in certain counts that I needed to with runners in scoring position,” Bridwell said. “Obviously, the defense made plays behind me. Can’t say enough about that.”
Keynan Middleton came on in relief and struck out Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor before Gallo was thrown out trying to steal in between by catcher Martin Maldonado, who had thrown out 40 percent of base stealers coming in, second best in the AL.
Cam Bedrosian pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Yusmeiro Petit did the same in the ninth for his fourth save.
“That’s what we need to do,” Scioscia said. “We have a lot of young arms.”
The Angels’ bullpen came in fourth in the AL in ERA (3.76) and sixth in opponent batting average (.238).
Bridwell didn’t pitch like someone seeking his first win in his past six outings. He struck out five straight batters in the second and third innings, including all three in the third, and did not allow a baserunner until Gallo hit a line drive that nicked off the glove of first baseman C.J. Cron and went into the corner for a one-out double in the fifth.
Chirinos followed with a walk to reach base for the 29th straight game, the longest active streak in the majors, but Bridwell got Odor to pop out to short and fanned Willie Calhoun for his seventh strikeout in five innings. He also stranded two runners in the sixth after getting Adrian Beltre to ground out weakly to third.
The Angels learned the Twins lost to the Toronto Blue Jays while they were batting in the fourth and holding a 1-0 lead.
Los Angeles scored the run in the first inning on the 30th home run by Upton, who also tied his career high with his 102nd RBI. It was Upton’s second home run since he was acquired by the Angels, and second in 49 career at-bats off Hamels. The other came on Opening Day in 2013, when Upton was with the Atlanta Braves and Hamels was pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.
“He’s got great stuff and you really have to focus in on getting good pitches to hit,” Upton said. “He throws a lot of pitches that look like strikes, that you might chase, so get him in the zone, make him throw strikes and put a barrel to it.”
Hamels, who came in 4-1 in his career against the Angels with a 2.87 ERA, including 2-0 in four starts this season with a 2.36 mark, gave up a single and two walks to load the bases in the third inning, but got Cron to ground out to short to end the inning. He faced the minimum number of hitters in the second, fourth and fifth innings.
“In between the two home runs, he was really fabulous,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “He’s our best guy and he’s been a true warrior out on the mound. Two pitches. Tough loss.”