Angels designated hitter Bobby Abreu is congratulated by right fielder… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
The kids have been more than all right for the Angels this season. Without the significant contributions of first baseman Mark Trumbo, 25, center fielder Peter Bourjos, 24, and closer Jordan Walden, 23, the Angels would not be in a race for the division title.
But Sunday, the old guys ruled. Joel Pineiro, the 32-year-old right-hander who was demoted to the bullpen in early August, gave up one run and five hits in seven innings to lead the Angels to a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Bobby Abreu, the 37-year-old outfielder who has been reduced to a platoon role because of his .253 average and minimal power, lined a solo home run to right field in the first inning.
Scott Downs, the 35-year-old left-hander, retired the side in order to protect a 2-1 lead in the eighth, lowering his earned-run average to 1.37 in 52 games. He has not given up a run in 23 innings at home this season.
And outfielders Torii Hunter, 36, and Vernon Wells, 32, drove in key insurance runs with singles in the bottom of the eighth as the Angels remained 31/2 games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West with 22 games to play.
"The old guys have to represent," said Abreu, whose seventh homer of the season and first since Aug. 9 came against Twins starter Kevin Slowey. "The kids have been doing a good job, but sometimes we veterans have to do what we can do to help the team win."
Pineiro, 0-3 with a 9.18 ERA in his previous nine games, set the tone with his first win since July 9, showing good command of his sinker and slider and changing speeds effectively.
Rookie catcher Hank Conger, whose erratic throws to second contributed to his demotion to triple A in July, helped Pineiro by throwing out two runners attempting to steal second. Opponents had been successful in 50 of 58 stolen-base attempts against Conger.
Pineiro's only blemish was a fourth-inning solo homer by Joe Mauer, who has a .667 career average (16 for 24) against Pineiro.
"Mauer has my number, but at least I kept it to a solo homer," Pineiro (6-6) said. "We've been counting on the big three [Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana] all year. Hopefully, me and whoever the fifth starter is can give the team a chance to win."
Pineiro left the game in good hands. In a season marred by inconsistent and unreliable relief, Downs has been the one constant, limiting opponents to a .192 average (32 for 167) and three homers in 46 innings. He has 22 "holds" and two blown saves, and has stranded 23 of 30 inherited runners.
"There's no telling where we'd be without him," Hunter said of Downs, who signed a three-year, $15-million deal with the Angels last winter. "He's been exceptional. He was a great pickup."
Manager Mike Scioscia likened Downs' performance to some of Scot Shields' best years as an Angels setup man.
"He's probably the most underrated reliever in baseball," Scioscia said. "If you look at his stuff, it's not off the charts, but his ability to pitch isn't matched by many. He's had a terrific season for us, and he's going to be important for us down the stretch."
The Angels don't play the Rangers again until the final three games of the season, so it's important for them to shave at least a few more games off their lead before late September.
"We're human — we saw that Texas won, and that gave us a little extra push," Hunter said. "The veteran guys have to step up and do what we do.
"You see the fight in Vernon. He hasn't had a good season, but he wants to finish strong and get to the playoffs for the first time. You see him, Bobby and me picking up the pace. This is fun. This is what we live for."