The Angels spotted the rest of the American League West six weeks. Their starting rotation was in disarray, their bullpen was a disaster, their defense was spotty and their power was nonexistent.
The division had its chance. Nice try.
Ervin Santana is back. John Lackey comes back Saturday. Vladimir Guerrero and Kelvim Escobar should be back soon. And, if the Angels win tonight and Saturday, they'll be in first place.
"It's definitely big that nobody got real hot in our division," Lackey said. "We're right in the race."
Jeff Mathis singled home the winning run in the 12th inning on Thursday, and Torii Hunter drove in three runs and contributed a game-saving catch as well, sparking the Angels to a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox. The Angels' beleaguered bullpen held the Red Sox to one run over seven innings.
The Angels have won nine of their past 11 games, moving three games above .500 for the first time this season. They have not been alone in first place at any point. They trail the Texas Rangers by 1 1/2 games, and they open a three-game series at Texas today.
"It says a lot about this team," Hunter said. "We went through a lot of adversity in April, with the death of Nick Adenhart, all the injuries, playing without our star players. We were just fighting. Now we're starting to put it all together."
Santana, in his first start of the season, gave the Angels five decent innings. Jason Bulger, the last of five relief pitchers, earned the victory.
The Red Sox had loaded the bases with one out in the top of the 12th inning, but Bulger struck out American League MVP Dustin Pedroia and retired David Ortiz on a check-swing dribbler.
Juan Rivera singled to start the bottom of the 12th, and Reggie Willits ran for him. Erick Aybar sacrificed Willits to second, and Mathis singled home the run. Mathis is batting .438 with runners in scoring position.
The game had lasted four hours and seven minutes. Mike Napoli very nearly pinned Mathis to the ground in the ensuing dog pile near second base.
"I saw him coming," Mathis said. "I didn't know if I was going to tackle him or if he was going to tackle me."
Santana, pitching for the Angels for the first time since being diagnosed in spring training with a partially torn ligament in his right elbow, gave up three runs in five innings, on seven hits and three walks.
The All-Star right-hander made 92 pitches, after making 79 in his last rehabilitation appearance, and his fastball ranged from 88-93 mph.
The Angels all but carried Hunter off the field on their shoulders in the 10th inning, when he raced to deep left-center to intercept a drive off the bat of Pedroia. The ball appeared to be headed for the alley, for a double that would have driven in the go-ahead run, but Hunter caught the ball in full stride, with no fear about whether he might run into the fence.
"It's not as hard as getting hit by a linebacker," he said.
Fans chanted "To-rii, To-rii" as he ran off the field, four days after he had leaped above the outfield fence to rob Miguel Olivo of the Kansas City Royals of what would have been a game-tying, ninth-inning home run.
"I can't keep ranking these plays," Hunter said with a smile. "I just go out there and have fun. It sounds kind of cocky when you go out there ranking plays. But I gotta say, this is up there."