The strikeouts were great for Angels right-hander Zack Greinke on Tuesday night, 13 of them in five innings, including four in the fourth and one with the bases loaded to end the fifth against the Seattle Mariners.
One problem: It took 110 pitches, five short of his 115-pitch cap, to rack up those strikeouts, and Greinke had to turn the game over in the sixth inning to a less-than-trustworthy bullpen that leads the American League with 22 blown saves.
There was a near meltdown by left-hander Scott Downs, who gave up three runs in the seventh, but relievers Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri held on to preserve a 5-4 victory that kept the Angels two games behind Oakland for the second wild-card spot with eight games left.
Jepsen got the last out of the seventh and threw a scoreless eighth, and Frieri, who cost Greinke victories in his previous two starts by giving up three ninth-inning home runs, struck out two in the ninth for his 21st save.
Greinke, Garrett Richards, Jepsen and Frieri combined for 20 strikeouts, tying a major league record for a nine-inning game set four times, last by the Chicago Cubs against Houston on May 6, 1998.
"Really?" Frieri said when informed of the record? "Oh my God. I didn't know that. I'm glad I was a part of it."
Greinke, 5-0 with a 1.62 earned-run average in his last seven starts, was the biggest part, though not by design.
"I was trying to get ahead of guys, I got a bunch of strikeouts early, and later on, I had to go for strikeouts because there were runners in scoring position," Greinke said. "It was kind of fluky."
Greinke, with a fastball that topped out at 95 mph, held Seattle to one run — a Justin Smoak homer in the fourth — and seven hits in five innings.
The right-hander struck out three in the first, two in the second and third innings, and four in the fourth after Trayvon Robinson whiffed on a breaking ball in the dirt but reached on a wild pitch.
With the Angels clinging to a 2-1 lead, Greinke blew a 94-mph fastball by Eric Thames with the bases loaded to end the fifth.
Greinke became the first starter in the live-ball era (since 1920) to record 13 or more strikeouts in five or fewer innings. Arizona's Randy Johnson struck out 13 through five innings against Houston on July 4, 2001, but went six innings in the game.
"I used to try to strike everyone out," said Greinke, who won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award with Kansas City, "but the No. 1 problem with that is it takes too much energy and wears you down."
As dominant as Greinke was, Manager Mike Scioscia didn't think twice about pulling him after five.
"I don't know if I've ever seen a guy throw so many pitches in five innings and be so successful," Scioscia said. "You throw that many pitches in five innings, usually, you're having a tough night."
The Angels scored twice in the first when Mike Trout reached on an error, took third on Torii Hunter's single and scored on Albert Pujols' single. Hunter took third on Pujols' hit and raced home on Alberto Callaspo's sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead.
The Angels made it 4-0 in the fifth when Trout singled and Hunter crushed a two-run homer, his 16th of the season, to left. Erick Aybar's solo homer to right in the sixth made it 5-1.
Richards struck out the side on 14 pitches in the sixth, but Downs gave up back-to-back doubles to Dustin Ackley and Gutierrez for one run and gave up a two-run homer to Smoak that pulled the Mariners to within 5-4 before Jepsen and Frieri closed the door.