That laborious 30-pitch, two-walk, multi-hit inning that has become a trademark of so many C.J. Wilson starts — even the good ones — never materialized Saturday night.
The enigmatic Angels left-hander delivered his best game of the season, holding Oakland to three hits through 81/3 innings, striking out eight and walking two in a 2-0 victory that moved the Angels to within nine games of the first-place Athletics in the American League West.
Wilson (10-6) escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth by getting Grant Green to fly to center and Coco Crisp to pop to shortstop, and he was removed to a standing ovation after giving up a one-out single to Jed Lowrie in the ninth.
Closer Ernesto Frieri struck out Josh Donaldson and walked Seth Smith to put two on for John Jaso, a career .330 hitter with five home runs and 23 runs batted in against the Angels. But Frieri struck out Jaso on three pitches for his 24th save.
Wilson, who is 6-1 with and 1.69 earned-run average in his last six starts, pitched aggressively against the patient A's, throwing first-pitch strikes to 17 of 30 batters and going 0 and 2 to nine of those hitters. Of his 119 pitches, 80 were strikes.
“I don't know if we've ever seen him that locked in,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “His strike-ball ratio, his first-pitch strike ratio, was incredible. He commanded the strike zone with good stuff. He had every pitch that he could throw in any count, and he executed.”
Wilson has a vast arsenal of pitches, but his tendency to nibble at the fringes of the strike zone has contributed to a team-leading 49 walks in 1282/3 innings and 91 walks in 2021/3 innings last season.
Saturday night, he didn't walk a batter until the eighth, “which is pretty good for me,” Wilson said. “An 0-1 count instead of 1-0 makes all the difference in the world.”
The A's rank second in the league with 358 walks, so it's important to attack their lineup, but that doesn't necessarily mean grooving first-pitch strikes.
“They have some patience, but they also have some guys with some power who will jump on that first pitch if it's there and drive it,” Scioscia said. “So it's not as easy as throwing the ball down the middle. You have to make pitches.”
The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the first when Mike Trout was hit by a pitch, took third on Albert Pujols' single to right and scored on Josh Hamilton's sacrifice fly.
After giving up a leadoff single to Nate Freiman in the second, Wilson struck out Derek Norris, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss to start a streak in which he retired 18 batters in a row, but he needed two superb plays in the sixth to keep the string going.
Third baseman Alberto Callaspo dived to his left to stop Crisp's grounder and threw to first for the second out, and left fielder J.B. Shuck made a diving catch of Chris Young's flare toward the line to end the inning.
“Those were awesome plays,” Wilson said. “I don't strike everybody out, so I have to use the defense as much as possible.”
Callaspo, who is batting .344 (33 for 96) over his last 28 games, gave Wilson some breathing room when he lined starter Dan Straily's first pitch of the seventh into the right-field seats for his fifth home run and a 2-0 lead.