By Joe Haakenson, The Sports Xchange
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Adrian Beltre loves the Los Angeles Angels.
Better put, Beltre loves playing against the Angels.
The third baseman homered and drove in four runs to lead the Texas Rangers to a 5-3 win over the Angels on Monday night at Angel Stadium.
The win moved the Rangers (62-62) within two games of the Minnesota Twins (64-60) for the second American League wild card. The Angels (64-61) are a half-game back. The Seattle Mariners (64-62) are one game behind, and the Kansas City Royals (62-61) are 1 1/2 games back.
Rangers starter Cole Hamels (9-1) gave up two runs on three hits and two walks in seven innings. He struck out three.
The big blow of the game came off the bat of Beltre, who hit a three-run homer in the third inning off Angels starter Tyler Skaggs. It turned a 2-1 edge into a 5-1 cushion, a lead big enough for Hamels to work with and spoiling the night for Skaggs.
Beltre is putting up Hall of Fame numbers, and many of his totals have come against the Angels. He has more runs (126), hits (259), doubles (51), homers (43) and RBIs (156) against the Angels than against any other club.
“I have no explanation,” Beltre said. “I’ve been lucky, that’s pretty much it.”
Luck has nothing to do with it, according to Rangers manager Jeff Banister.
“Other than being a great player?” Banister said. “That speaks to who he is, and look, he lives out here. He likes to play in front of his family. He’s a great player, there’s no other reason other than that.”
Skaggs (1-4) allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings, not nearly good enough on a night Hamels was strong.
Hamels gave up an RBI single to Martin Maldonado in the second inning and an RBI groundout to C.J. Cron in the sixth, but nothing more.
The Angels threatened in the eighth inning with Hamels out of the game, loading the bases on three walks by Rangers reliever Jose Leclerc. However, with two outs and the bases loaded, lefty Alex Claudio entered the game and got Jefry Marte on a grounder to shortstop to end the inning.
Claudio remained in the game to pitch the ninth, and he had to face Mike Trout representing the tying run with two on and two outs. Trout singled to drive in one run, but Claudio got Albert Pujols on a grounder to first, earning his seventh save.
Hamels said he could have pitched into the eighth inning, but Banister didn’t want him to face Trout and Pujols a fourth time.
“We were in a situation tonight where Cole pitched very well and had only given up only three hits,” the manager said. “But in communication with him, all of us, we were at a point to where we were getting back around to where we were going to face the top part of the lineup again. They’ve had multiple looks at Cole with a high pitch-count situation. We felt like getting a fresh arm out there with Leclerc, who we feel when he’s throwing strikes is a very effective pitcher. He’s faced those hitters before and had success.”
Skaggs never seemed to be able to find a groove, though he didn’t give up another run after Beltre’s homer.
“After the third, I think he settled down a little bit, but he missed a lot of spots early in the game,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He minimized damage in the first inning (when the Rangers scored one run), but then coming out of it, he got behind some hitters, and those guys squared some balls up.”
None was squared up as well as Beltre, who hammered a 92 mph fastball over the fence in left for his 14th homer of the season and career homer No. 459.
“He’s got over 3,000 hits, and they’re not all against us,” Scioscia said when asked about Beltre’s success against his club. “He’s good; he keeps getting better. He adapts, and he still has a tremendous skill set. He’s a tough out in the batter’s box.”