Iannetta's homer seals Angels' comeback win
Catcher goes yard in eighth after three-run seventh; Richards K's seven
ANAHEIM -- The Angels are a totally different band this season, showcasing a harmonious sound track. Mike Trout is feeling it, and so is Garrett Richards, another foundation piece for the franchise's future.
"This is a special team," said Richards, the kid with the golden arm. "Nobody quits. Everybody thinks we're going to win till the last out of the game. It's a great group of guys. Winning takes care of a lot of things."
Chris Iannetta lashed a line-drive home run into the left-field corner in the eighth inning on Sunday, lifting the Angels to a dramatic, come-from-behind 4-3 victory that gave them the weekend series against the Royals in front of 36,114 at Angel Stadium.
The Angels have won 12 of their past 16 contests to storm to within 1 1/2 games of the A's, tops in the American League West, a division the Halos last won in 2009 -- the year they drafted Trout, Richards and another sterling young starter, Tyler Skaggs.
"The team chemistry right now is unbelievable -- we all love each other and pick each other up," said Trout, the future face of, by many evaluations, the entire sport.
Trout's RBI double off hard-throwing Kelvin Herrera preceded a clutch two-out, two-strike, two-run single by David Freese that brought the Angels even at 3 in the seventh. Iannetta had jump-started the rally with a leadoff single against former teammate Jason Vargas, who handcuffed the Angels on three hits through 6 1/3 innings in his confrontation with young gun Richards.
Iannetta was 1-for-5 in his career against Vargas when he stepped in to open the seventh, having struck out in his first two at-bats.
"Facing Vargas," Iannetta said, "that might have been the first hit I've gotten off him. I have a hard time seeing the difference between his fastball and changeup. I finally put the barrel on a ball and it felt good."
The mild-mannered catcher wasn't sure if the emotional lift he got from starting the rally in the seventh carried over to his at-bat against Tim Collins, the diminutive lefty.
"Every at-bat is an individual event," Iannetta said. "Collins gave me a pitch to hit and I put the barrel on it."
Collins fell to 0-3 as Angels reliever Michael Kohn claimed his second victory in three decisions, and Ernesto Frieri bagged his sixth save.
"I just missed," Collins said of the pitch Iannetta sent rocketing into the seats in the corner. "I was trying to go away. You can't miss your spots in those situations. That's what I did, and that's what happens."
Vargas had to feel confident walking off the mound with a three-run lead with one out in the bottom of the seventh, his fifth victory with the Royals appearing fairly secure.
But the Angels staged a rally that has become a staple during their recent surge, producing four hits and two runs against Herrera, whose ERA rose to 1.96.
"Our guys put some professional at-bats together," Iannetta said. "A string of really good at-bats."
One of those, greeting Herrera in a pinch-hitting role, was by Raul Ibanez. The ageless one also contributed a defensive gem in left field, where Collin Cowgill had earlier made a pair of highlight-reel catches.
"Huge play Collin made [on Eric Hosmer's sacrifice fly in the third inning]," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He almost got the guy [Pedro Ciriaco] at home.
"The bigger one was probably the one Raul made on [Jarrod] Dyson [leading off the eighth]. [Dyson] has game-changing speed. For Raul to make that play for the first out in the inning was a great play."
When Vargas gave up the single to Iannetta in the seventh, it was the first hit he'd surrendered since a bunt single by Erick Aybar in the second inning.
Richards had moments with his electric stuff, striking out the side in the fifth on his way to seven K's. But a three-run third inning built on four hits, a walk and a balk had his team facing an uphill climb. Pitching coach Mike Butcher had a message for Richards as the inning ended.
"Butch came in and told me, `Let it go,'" Richards said. "That's what I try to do, is give us a chance to win. There were some negatives, positives, some learning lessons today. I always try to go deep in the game. If I go deep, I'm doing my job."
When C.J. Cron followed Freese's two-run single in the seventh with an opposite-field single to right, Albert Pujols rolled home from second, but he was ruled out on a close play at the plate. Scioscia challenged the call, but it was upheld.
"We've got these experienced veterans -- Albert, Freese, Raul -- who have been there and know what it's like to get there," Trout said.
A 10-game ride through the AL West starts with Monday's opener of a four-game series in Seattle, followed by three each with Oakland and Houston.
The Angels are anticipating the return of Josh Hamilton, another weapon of note, on the trip.
"We're having a blast," Trout said. "The clubhouse is loose, and we're winning."