OAKLAND -- Even the most ardent supporters of the Angels have written off Vernon Wells as a bust, and the team hasn't had much use for the overpaid, underachieving outfielder who has been reduced to a bit player since late July.
So guess who played a huge role in cooling off the hottest team in the majors and helping the Angels open a crucial 10-game stretch against wild-card contenders with a convincing 8-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on Monday.
Yep, it was Wells, who had a run-scoring single in the second inning, a prodigious home run in the fourth, and walked and scored in the sixth, as the Angels ended Oakland's winning streak at nine games.
Torii Hunter and Chris Iannetta also hit home runs, with Iannetta adding a double and a run-scoring single, and C.J. Wilson escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fifth inning. The Angels pulled to within 41/2 games of the A's in the wild-card race but remain 31/2 games behind Baltimore for the second spot.
"When I'm having fun, things come a whole lot easier than when you're thinking about what your numbers are and what the struggles have been," said Wells, who is paid $21 million per year and is under contract through 2014.
"I'm trying to live for today, enjoy the moment, and when you get opportunities, take advantage. You can't go back and change what's taken place over the last few years, but we can make this a memorable September."
Wells would like to forget most of his Angels career. He hit .218 with 25 home runs and 66 runs batted in last season after being traded from Toronto and was hitting .244 when he tore a ligament in his right thumb last May. When Wells returned, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Hunter were entrenched in the outfield.
Monday marked Wells' 12th start in 31 games since Aug. 1, but even in a limited role, he has helped. He has four home runs and 12 RBIs in his last 16 games; he had three home runs and 12 RBIs in his previous 45 games.
"It's a different role, and there are adjustments to make," Wells said. "You have to change your approach. You have to keep your mind in the game when you're not playing. The biggest thing is, when I do get a chance to play, try to do what I can to help this team win."
Wells seems to have accepted his new role, "but don't confuse accepting with wanting to play every day," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's a much better player now than we've seen the last two years."
The A's, who won 15 of 17 games, outscored opponents 72-22 during their winning streak and trailed in only seven innings, but they never led Monday. After Erick Aybar and Albert Callaspo singled in the second, Wells and Iannetta hit run-scoring singles for a 2-0 lead.
Hunter's home run and Aybar's run-scoring single in the third inning made it 4-0, and Wells' home run in the fifth, which knocked starter Tommy Milone out, made it 5-0. The A's scored in the fourth and fifth innings, but Wells walked to spark a three-run rally in the sixth inning.
Wells, a hacker who drew 20 walks last season — and one in September — also walked in the eighth, his third two-walk game in 192 games as an Angel.
"That's a feat," Wells said with a laugh. "I remember walking three times once, and I don't know what happened. I lost track of time."