What. A. Game. After last night’s shellacking ended the Angels seven-game winning streak, it was hard to be confident in this team coming into today’s 4th of July contest. Especially with Adam Wainwright on the mound for the Cardinals against the good-of-late but still not entirely trusted, Joe Blanton. Through eight innings, Wainwright lived up to his billing. Showing Angels fans the stuff that has made him a legitimate Ace. But in the ninth, well, we’ll get to that.
The Angels got on the board first in the bottom of the third inning. Mike Trout did something that he rarely does in his second at bat against Wainwright. He swung at the first pitch, lining into center field to bring home both Alberto Callaspo and Erick Aybar to give the Angels an early 2-0 lead. Half an inning later, it was the Cardinals turn. Allen Craig drilled his 10th home run of the season, driving in Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
The seesaw then tilted back the Angels way when Mark Trumbo sent a screamer into the right field seats for his team-leading 19th home run of the season, knotting the game up at three. But a Matt Carpenter sacrifice fly in the fifth, and an RBI single by Daniel Descalso in the sixth put the Cards up 5-2. And with Wainwright settling in, that looked to be more than enough.
After Blanton was pulled after 5.2 innings (5 R, 4 ER, 7 K’s, 1 BB), Michael Kohn, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs combine to throw 3.1 innings of scoreless baseball. Speaking of which; don’t look now, but the Angels bullpen has been looking very solid lately. And a solid bullpen will go a long way if the Angels intend on getting back into the playoff race.
While the Angels bullpen was keeping the game close, Wainwright was making sure that the Angels didn’t get closer. After Trumbo’s home run in the fourth, he allowed only two more baserunners through the eighth inning, getting one of those runners erased on a double play in the eighth. With the Angels running out of outs, and Wainwright looking more comfortable than a couch commando with a fully stocked supply of Cheez-Its (at least, that’s how I would do it), all hope was nearly lost.
Albert Pujols singled to start the ninth inning. Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny then lifted Wainwright in favor of closer Edward Mujica. His second pitch to Josh Hamilton was launched to deep center-field for Josh’s 11th home run of the season, tying the game up at five, and sending fans in attendance (and on Twitter) into a full on frenzy. The home run extended Josh’s hitting streak to nine games, and was one of those signature moments that Angels fans have been waiting for.
Hamilton’s blast was followed up by a Howie Kendrick single. Howie then moved up to third on Mark Trumbo’s second hit of the night, a single to left field. Runners on the corners. Nobody out. The anticipation was mounting. But then Alberto Callaspo popped out into foul territory. Hank Conger then flew out to right field, but not nearly deep enough to bring home Kendrick. Then, on a 2-1 splitter that hung up in the zone, Erick Aybar slapped an RBI single to left, bringing home Kendrick and setting off all kinds of fireworks.
The Cardinals are one of the best teams in baseball, and currently sport the best run differential in the game as well. But they ran into a white-hot Angels team that is looking every bit like the team that was picked to win it all before the season began. And even though their record is 41-44, It may be time to put the Rangers and Athletics on notice.
After three straight series’ wins, the Angels welcome the Boston Red Sox to town tomorrow night, sending C.J. Wilson to the mound against Felix Doubront. Game time is at 7:05 PM PST. Light up the halo, light it way way up. This team is playing with heart, with fire, with testicular fortitude. Be prepared to play the Angels, Major League Baseball, be prepared.