KANSAS CITY, Mo. — — Mike Scioscia made five pitching changes Sunday, and not one of the moves blew up in the Angels manager's face.
One day after closer Ernesto Frieri's ninth-inning meltdown turned a two-run lead into a gut-wrenching loss, an Angels bullpen that leads the American League with 22 blown saves provided a huge sigh of relief, combining for 31/3 scoreless, one-hit innings in a 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals in Kauffman Stadium.
Mark Trumbo found his long-lost power stroke with a three-run home run for a 4-0 lead in the second inning, but the Royals scored in the second, third and fourth innings, leaving the Angels bullpen no margin for error.
After giving up three runs — two earned — and five hits in 52/3 innings, starter Dan Haren handed the ball to Nick Maronde, who got the last out of the sixth inning.
Garrett Richards threw a scoreless seventh, and three pitchers — Richards, Scott Downs and Jordan Walden — each got outs in the eighth.
With Frieri unavailable after pitching the previous two nights, Kevin Jepsen gave up one hit in a scorelesss ninth for his second save, as the Angels remained 21/2 games behind Baltimore for the second AL wild-card spot with 15 games left.
"You have to keep putting guys in positions you think are going to help win games," said Scioscia, who was heavily criticized for pulling starter Zack Greinke in the ninth inning of a 2-0 game Saturday. "Last night was a heavy page to turn, but the guys came back today and did the job."
There was a tense moment in the ninth inning when Mike Moustakas blooped a one-out single to left field and was replaced by speedy pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson, who took off on Jepsen's first pitch to Jeff Francoeur.
Jepsen pitched out, catcher Bobby Wilson made a strong throw to second base and Dyson was initially called safe by umpire D.J. Reyburn with a headfirst slide.
But Dyson's momentum carried him past the bag, second baseman Howie Kendrick maintained his tag, and Dyson was called out. Francoeur flied out to end the game.
"It's stressful to watch being in a one-run game," Haren said, "but those guys came in and did a great job."
It appeared the Angels might rout the Royals when Torii Hunter hit a run-scoring single in the first inning and Trumbo followed singles by Vernon Wells and Alberto Callaspo in the second with a three-run home run to center field, his 31st of the season but first extra-base hit since Aug. 21.
But for the rest of the afternoon, the Angels' offense mirrored Trumbo, who struck out in his next three at-bats and is batting .179 (27 for 151) with 65 strikeouts in 38 games.
"It's been a tough go for a long time, so I wouldn't expect one at-bat to get me out of it," said Trumbo, whose playing time has been reduced. "It was fun to contribute. Things have obviously changed, but I'm going to do everything I can to help."
The Angels have won 18 of 25 games but will need some help to reach the playoffs. They have no more games against teams ahead of them in the wild-card race and six more games against AL West-leading Texas, which opens a three-game series in Anaheim on Tuesday.
"Forget winning series, we're talking about winning every pitch," Scioscia said. "The only thing we can control is how we play. These last 25 to 30 games, we've seen glimpses of the way we can play, but we need to bring it for the last 15 games. We might need some help, but the best way for us to pressure other teams is to keep winning."