ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — It’s beyond crowded in the American League wild-card race, with eight teams bunched up like flowers in an overflowing vase.
The Los Angeles Angels were the most recent club to make some noise, winning nine of 11 to slip into the second spot.
But the Texas Rangers still believe they can make a run, and Monday night they took a step in that direction with a 5-3 victory over the Angels behind Adrian Beltre’s three-run homer and seven strong innings from Cole Hamels.
“We have to beat every team,” Hamels said. “If we want to stay in this wild-card race, we have a lot of different teams we have to beat. It doesn’t matter what teams we’re facing, we just have to win series.”
Hamels (9-1) did his part, allowing two runs on three hits, two walks and a hit batter while striking out three. Alex Claudio got four outs to earn his seventh save, despite giving up an RBI single to Mike Trout in the ninth.
The loss dropped the Angels a half-game back of Minnesota for the second AL wild card. The Rangers closed within two games of the final playoff berth. Eight teams are within four games of each other.
“We’re chasing these guys,” Beltre said. “It’s nice to get the first one out of the way and try to win the series.”
The game was tied 1-all going into the third when the Rangers took the lead on Shin-Soo Choo’s double off Tyler Skaggs (1-4) just beyond the glove of left fielder Cameron Maybin and off the wall, driving in the go-ahead run.
After Skaggs hit Elvis Andrus with a pitch, Beltre hit his 14th home run this season and the 459th of his career, tying Miguel Cabrera for 37th all-time.
“Just a poor performance today,” Skaggs said. “This loss is on me. I really wanted to go out there and make a good start for my team, and right from the first batter, it wasn’t meant to be.”
Skaggs was making his fourth start since missing more than three months due to an oblique strain. He was charged with five runs — four earned — in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander gave up four hits, walked one and hit two batters with pitches.
“He’s not that far off,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “But Tyler can get better. Right now he’s still kind of getting into his season and trying to re-establish everything he needs to do. He’ll be an important part of our stretch run.”
There is no team in baseball Beltre enjoys hitting against more than the Angels. All his team highs have come against them, including 43 home runs.
For this, he offers no theories: “I have no explanation. I’ve been lucky,” Beltre said.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister had a slightly different perspective: “He lives out here and likes to play in front of his family. But he’s a great player. There’s no other reason than that.”
The Texas bullpen has been a constant challenge this season but Banister has become fully confident in Claudio. After Jose Leclerc loaded the bases on three walks with two outs in the eighth, Claudio came on and got Jefry Marte to bounce out.
“It’s good to have a guy like Claudio who can go out and get more than three outs for you,” Banister said. “He keeps the ball on the ground as well as anybody and has ice water in his veins.”
Rangers: After RHP Matt Bush and 3B Joey Gallo collided hard going for a popup Sunday, both were hurting. Bush was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sprained right knee and both players had concussion-like symptoms. Gallo did not start and could be placed on the seven-day concussion DL. Taking Bush’s place on the roster was Triple-A outfielder Ryan Rua.
Angels: Placed right-hander JC Ramirez on the 10-day DL with an elbow strain. The 29-year-old Ramirez had been a career reliever until moving into the rotation this season. He has thrown 147 1/3 innings. … Sidelined since going on the DL with a shoulder strain April 10, RHP Andrew Bailey returned to pitch in one game. He was returned to the DL with another shoulder strain. … RHP Garrett Richards, on the DL since injuring his biceps in his first outing, reported no problems the day after pitching a simulated game and is next scheduled to throw a three-inning simulated game on Friday.
Rangers: RHP Tyson Ross (3-2, 7.02 ERA) will attempt to get his season turned around against the Angels. In two games since returning from the DL with a blister issue, he has allowed six runs in 10 innings.
Angels: RHP Ricky Nolasco (6-12, 5.16) tries to shake some poor history against the Rangers. He is 1-3 with an 8.68 ERA in four career starts vs. Texas.
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