OAKLAND — These kids today.
First it was Mike Trout taking baseball by storm, the 21-year-old phenom poised to become the third player in history to win rookie-of-the-year and most-valuable-player awards in the same season.
Now, it's Nick Maronde, a left-hander who turned 23 on Wednesday and hadn't pitched above double A until Sunday, looking like the second coming of Francisco Rodriguez.
With the Angels clinging to a two-run lead, Oakland runners on first and third and one out in the seventh inning, Maronde replaced Garrett Richards and struck out Coco Crisp and Seth Smith to snuff out the rally.
Maronde, who began the season at Class-A Inland Empire, then struck out No. 3 batter Josh Reddick to open the eighth before yielding to Kevin Jepsen, and the Angels broke open the game with four ninth-inning runs en route to a 7-1 victory and a huge three-game sweep of the A's.
"We needed this bad," said Dan Haren, who held Oakland to one run and three hits in six innings, striking out seven and walking three. "I think our will to win these last three games has been different than the rest of the year.
"We had a different sense of urgency. We had business to take care of here to get back into the race. To sweep a team like that feels really good."
The A's had won nine straight, outscoring opponents 72-22 before the Angels arrived, and were leading the American League wild-card standings entering the series.
The Angels have won 12 of their last 15 games. Behind strong starts by C.J. Wilson, Zack Greinke and Haren, a bullpen that gave up one run in nine innings and a clutch-hitting offense, the Angels outscored the A's 21-5 in the series, and moved 11 games over .500 (74-63) for the first time this season.
"You can feel that urgency," said Torii Hunter, who had a run-scoring single in a three-run third and a two-run single in the ninth. "Every at-bat is intense. We know we have a good club and want to show it."
They didn't know they had a budding relief star in Maronde, a starter in the minor leagues but a situational lefty here.
"The minor league guys felt he had the makeup and the arm to pitch here," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He showed it in a big way this afternoon."
Maronde, a third-round draft pick from the University of Florida last year, struck out Seattle's Carlos Peguero in his big league debut Sunday. With veteran left-hander Scott Downs unavailable Wednesday because he had pitched the previous two games, Scioscia turned to Maronde, who used his power fastball-slider combination to whiff three A's.
Maronde has struck out all four big league batters he has faced.
"He was probably the MVP of the game," Haren said. "It's a testament to his mental makeup that he can stay composed and throw strikes."
Wednesday might have been more nerve-racking had Maronde not pitched Sunday.
"I was a little calmer today because I got my feet wet in Seattle," Maronde said. "I just wanted to throw strikes and let the defense make plays. I didn't expect this at all. It's surreal, to be honest."
The Angels made the most of their eight hits, bunching four in a third inning that included Hunter's run-scoring single, Albert Pujols' double and Howie Kendrick's two-run single.
Haren gave up a run on Smith's run-scoring single in the third but pitched his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam to end the inning. Jepsen struck out two in the eighth.
"They were the hottest team in baseball, and we took three games from them," Hunter said. "It shows a lot about this club."