Angels designated hitter Russell Branyan, second from right, is congratulated… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
The interleague portion of the 2011 schedule ended Sunday for the Angels, who were sorry to see it go.
Where else can you get three hits in a game and still win, as the Angels did Sunday when Russell Branyan capped a three-run seventh inning with a two-run home run to give the Angels a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers?
Ervin Santana (4-8) gave up one run and six hits in 72/3 innings for his first win since May 25, and Bobby Abreu sparked the winning rally with a double as the Angels moved into a first-place tie with the Texas Rangers in the American League West.
The Dodgers, who got a complete game from Chad Billingsley but were one for 12 with runners in scoring position, claimed sole possession of last place in the National League West, 11 games behind first-place San Francisco.
It is probably no coincidence that the Angels' surge into first place for the first time since May 27 came during a spate of games against the NL.
They were 13-5 in interleague play this season, tied with the New York Yankees for the best record, and they are a major league-best 132-84 in interleague play since 2000.
The Angels stress pitching, defense and aggressive baserunning more than most AL teams, and they rarely have trouble inserting their designated hitter into the field in NL parks.
But Manager Mike Scioscia isn't exactly sure why his teams fare so well in interleague play.
"I haven't studied it, to be honest with you," Scioscia said. "We've had teams that have won 100 games, and some have come against NL clubs. We're just approaching it as a baseball game.
"If you're playing good baseball and you're a good team, you're going to have a chance of winning interleague games. If you're playing poorly, you can lose to Pacific Coast League teams."
The Angels looked less dangerous than a PCL club through six innings Sunday, their only hit a second-inning single by Howie Kendrick. Rafael Furcal's single and stolen base, and James Loney's run-scoring double in the sixth inning, gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
But Abreu led off the seventh inning with his 542nd double, which moved him ahead of Rogers Hornsby and into 26th place on the all-time list.
Abreu advanced to third base on a wild pitch and, with the infield back, scored on Vernon Wells' grounder to second base. The run was Abreu's 1,390th, tying him with Joe DiMaggio for 90th on the all-time list.
Kendrick was hit by a pitch, Alberto Callaspo flied to left field and up stepped Branyan, the seldom-used reserve who was making his first start since June 21.
Branyan took a nice, easy swing at a full-count changeup and drove it into the right-center field seats for a 3-1 lead.
"You get in that box and you want it so bad, one of the toughest things to do is to turn the intensity down," Branyan said. "I was just trying not to over-swing. My first at-bat, I got a nice changeup I could handle, I swung too hard and rolled over on it."
Branyan was a virtual afterthought before the game, with a .171 average and two runs batted in, but his first home run as an Angel gave him a sense of belonging.
"We're all human beings, we're competitors, and we want to be the ones up there with the game on the line, the guys who come through and help the team win," Branyan said. "It felt good to be in that situation."