ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ernesto Frieri’s 18th save required four outs, 38 pitches and tense showdowns with every batter in the heart of the Detroit Tigers’ powerful lineup.
The Angels’ sturdy closer didn’t flinch under the burden. He kept Los Angeles charging through September in its pursuit of a postseason berth that gets more plausible with every win.
Zack Greinke pitched seven strong innings of five-hit ball, Mike Trout hit a leadoff homer for the second straight day and the Angels completed their second straight series sweep with a 3-2 victory over the slumping Tigers on Sunday.
Frieri ended it in grand style, finally getting Jhonny Peralta on a grounder with two runners on in the ninth to wrap up the Angels’ sixth straight victory. Los Angeles is just one game behind Baltimore in the AL wild-card race after winning 11 of 12 and 15 of 18.
“We’re playing like everybody expects us to play,” said Frieri, who has a 0.83 ERA at home since joining the Angels in early May. “We still believe we’re going to make (the playoffs). The first day I came here, I believed we were going to make it. Now, I’m 100 percent sure.”
With its season-best sixth straight win at Angel Stadium, Los Angeles (77-63) stayed even with Tampa Bay and pulled within one game of Baltimore (78-62). The Orioles and the Oakland Athletics, who open a four-game series in Anaheim on Monday, barely lead the wild-card race, while Detroit (73-66) remained 4 1/2 games back with its fifth loss in six games.
Greinke (5-2) struck out seven in his fourth straight victory, and Alberto Callaspo hit an early two-run homer before prolonging the ninth inning with an error. The Angels survived to move a season-best 14 games over .500 — but still can’t afford any significant letdown in the final 3 1/2 weeks.
“We took three from one of the best teams in baseball,” Torii Hunter said. “We’re hot. We’re ready to go. All we can do is keep playing and riding out this wave until it falls out.”
Frieri had had an epic day of work, even after he struck out Dirks with a Detroit runner on second to end the eighth inning.
Miguel Cabrera drew a 10-pitch leadoff walk in the ninth, but Frieri struck out Prince Fielder and Delmon Young. Boesch grounded to third, but Callaspo mishandled the ball out of his glove.
Frieri then coaxed another grounder to third out of Peralta, and Callaspo had no problem with it.
Anibal Sanchez (2-5) pitched seven solid innings for Detroit, yielding seven hits without walking a batter, but his teammates couldn’t overcome the Angels’ early homers.
Andy Dirks homered and Brennan Boesch had an RBI double for the Tigers, who remain just two games behind Chicago atop the AL Central. Detroit visits the White Sox for a key four-game series starting Monday.
“We didn’t win any games in this series, but we’re right there,” Boesch said. “We’re only (two) back, so every game going forward is huge, especially the series in Chicago.”
Greinke has found a groove with the Angels in his last six starts, going 5-1 and allowing just 16 runs. The former Cy Young winner pitched at least seven innings for the seventh time in nine starts with Los Angeles, providing much-needed durability during ace Jered Weaver’s injury absence.
“Every game right now is like do-or-die, so that’s kind of cool,” Greinke said.
Sanchez struck out six Angels in his eighth start for the Tigers since arriving in a trade with Miami. He is 1-4 in his last six outings despite giving up just five runs over 26 2-3 innings in the last four.
“I thought that was the best Sanchez has been,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “He threw the ball better today than I’ve seen since he’s been here. He’s getting better each time out.”
Trout added another chapter to his jaw-dropping rookie season when he drove Sanchez’s second pitch over the wall in deep center. The homer was the 27th for the 21-year-old phenom, setting the team record for a leadoff hitter, and his fourth game-opening homer after doing the same thing Saturday against Justin Verlander.
Callaspo connected in the second inning on a two-run shot to right.
Greinke retired 10 of 11 after Dirks’ homer in the fourth, but Young scored in the seventh with a two-out single, a throwing error on Erick Aybar, a wild pitch and Boesch’s double. Greinke struck out Peralta to end the threat.
Peter Bourjos made a big catch in the eighth inning, sprinting into the gap to catch Austin Jackson’s drive with a Detroit runner on second.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an outfield play a better series than they played against us,” Leyland said.
NOTES: Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Weaver felt fine after throwing on the side. The 16-game winner will pitch in the bullpen Monday as he continues his comeback from right shoulder tendinitis. … Angel Campos joined the umpiring crew at second base, replacing Jeff Kellogg, who left Saturday’s game after getting a foul tip off his mask. … Greinke has allowed a homer in a career-worst eight consecutive starts.