'Pen provides encouraging signs as LA locks up series
Relief corps retires last 11 Indians batters after Wilson's short start
CLEVELAND -- The 16 games that preceded this road trip -- a stretch that essentially knocked the Angels out of playoff contention for good -- had been a nightmare for Mike Scioscia's bullpen, which posted a 7.77 ERA, took eight losses and allowed an opponents' OPS of .947.
And that's what made Saturday night so encouraging.
An escalating pitch count limited C.J. Wilson's outing to 5 1/3 innings, but the Angels' bullpen was perfect, getting out of a critical two-on, one-out jam in the sixth, setting the stage for a four-run eighth inning and retiring all 11 Indians hitters it faced in a 7-2 victory at Progressive Field.
"I think the separation of some ground we could've made up these last two weeks definitely points to some guys in the bullpen that had a rough 10-game stretch, and when they get it done, it's big for us," Scioscia said, his club starting a seven-game road trip with back-to-back victories while handing the Indians their sixth consecutive defeat.
"They came up really big tonight; last night they were really strong. These are guys who are important to us, and everyone who came in the game did a great job tonight."
One night after J.C. Gutierrez and Dane De La Rosa pitched two scoreless innings in a 5-2 win, five relievers hurled 3 2/3 perfect innings against a club that came in with the fourth-most runs in the American League, striking out six batters in the process.
The biggest three outs may have come from Ernesto Frieri, who had a 23.14 ERA in his previous seven appearances, was basically stripped of his closer's role and was brought into a low-leverage ninth in hopes that it would boost his confidence.
Frieri recorded his first 1-2-3 inning since July 19, getting a strikeout, flyout and groundout.
"Ernie's still Ernie," said Kevin Jepsen, who pitched a scoreless eighth after Gutierrez shut the Indians down in the seventh. "The reason why it's so spotlighted that he's been struggling his last few outings is because he's been so dominant up to that point."
Wilson gave up only two runs, but he got his pitch count up early -- throwing 57 pitches through the first two innings -- and failed to pitch six full innings for the sixth time this season, giving up seven hits and walking four batters in a 117-pitch outing.
The veteran left-hander departed with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth, but right-hander Michael Kohn induced an infield popup to Nick Swisher and lefty Buddy Boshers, making his Major League debut, struck out Jason Kipnis to get out of the jam and preserve a one-run lead.
"It was a battle to get ahead of the guys today, there's no way to characterize that any other way," said Wilson, who nonetheless won his 12th game and has a 3.49 ERA. "I threw what I thought were great pitches and they were making me throw real, real, real strike-y strikes. They wouldn't swing at anything borderline early in the count, and it worked to their credit in the sense that it got me out of the game early. But our bullpen just came in and dominated tonight, and that was great."
Leading by a run through the first seven innings, the Angels broke it open with Ubaldo Jimenez out of the game in the eighth.
Josh Hamilton fisted an opposite-field single, Mark Trumbo reached on an error by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and both scored on Kipnis' ill-advised throw home upon fielding Erick Aybar's slow roller to second base. Chris Nelson then added an RBI single and J.B. Shuck hit his second sacrifice fly -- the Angels' Major League-leading 49th on the year and third of the game -- to balloon the lead to five.
Later that inning, Mike Trout drew a two-out walk to push his on-base streak to 40 games -- the second-longest streak in Angels history, trailing only Orlando Cabrera's 63 from 2006.
"They executed and we didn't," Indians manager Terry Francona said after his team made a season-high four errors. "They made plays and we didn't -- offensively, defensively -- and because of that, we go from a 3-2 game where we've got [Michael Bourn ] in motion, first and third, Swish up, to all of a sudden we're getting blown out."