OAKLAND — This is why the Angels paid what many considered a steep price—three double-A players, including a highly touted shortstop — to acquire right-hander Zack Greinke from Milwaukee on July 27, for nights like this.
In a must-win September game with potential postseason implications, Greinke came up huge in the Oakland Coliseum, holding the hot-hitting Athletics to one run and four hits in seven innings to lead the Angels to a 6-1 victory, their 11th win in 14 games and second of a crucial three-game series against the A's.
Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo delivered clutch two-out, run-scoring hits in the eighth to break open a 2-1 game, and the Angels added two insurance runs in the ninth to pull to within 31/2 games of a playoff spot.
The Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees are tied for the American League East lead and tied with the A's for the wild-card lead.
Greinke struggled in his first five starts with the Angels, going 1-2 with a 6.19 earned run average, including an Aug. 8 game in Oakland in which he gave up four runs and walked five in five innings of a 9-8 loss. Greinke described it as perhaps the "worst day of control" he's had.
But in three games since, wins over Detroit, Boston and Oakland Tuesday night, Greinke has given up four earned runs in 212/3 innings for a 1.66 ERA, with 16 strikeouts and six walks.
"That looked like the Greinke of old," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "It shows he can step up in a big game. This team is not giving up. We're going to fight. Greinke showed it tonight. The hitters showed it. We showed grit. We want it."
Greinke blanked the A's on three hits through six innings, though several balls were drilled right at defenders, and his one glaring mistake, a hanging curve to Brandon Moss in the seventh, was hit for a solo home run to center.
"Zack is pretty even-keeled — that's why he's successful," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He competes very well. He doesn't get too up for big games. He just pitches his game. That's a great trait to have as a pitcher."
Was there a drastic difference between how Greinke felt Tuesday night, compared to that Aug. 8 game here?
"I forgot about that, actually," Greinke said. "Thanks for remininding me. I was awful. I threw all sinkers, and that's not really my game. I had no idea where I was throwing the ball. Everything I threw went into the ground."
Greinke was much sharper Tuesday despite having little room for error. The Angels scored once in the fifth when Mike Trout followed singles by Callaspo and Chris Ianetta with an RBI single and once in the sixth on singles by Kendrys Morales and Howie Kendrick, Aybar's sacrifice bunt and Callaspo's sacrifice fly.
Moss' homer made it 2-1 in the seventh, but the Angels countered in the eighth after Kendrick barely beat out a fielder's-choice grounder that was a split-second away from being an inning-ending double play. Kendrick stole second and scored when Aybar lined a double to left. Callaspo's RBI single made it 4-1, and a pair of walks and an error set up the Angels' two-run ninth, which included Morales' RBI double.
"In hindsight, that play by Howie in the eighth was huge," Scioscia said. "That kept the inning alive, and we got two key two-out hits and two big insurance runs."