GREG BEACHAM,AP Sports Writer
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Jim Leyland is coming up on a half-century in baseball, so it’s fairly significant when the Detroit manager says he’s never seen an outfield play better defense than the Los Angeles Angels.
That doesn’t make the Angels’ weekend sweep of the Tigers sting much less, however.
Zack Greinke pitched seven strong innings of five-hit ball, Mike Trout hit a leadoff homer for the second straight day and the Angels completed their second straight series sweep with a 3-2 victory over the slumping Tigers on Sunday.
Anibal Sanchez (2-5) pitched seven solid innings for Detroit, yielding seven hits without walking a batter. His teammates couldn’t overcome the Angels’ early homers from Trout and Alberto Callaspo — even with plenty of chances, right down to Ernesto Frieri’s final pitch.
“We didn’t win any games in this series, but we’re right there,” said Brennan Boesch, who had an RBI double. “We’re only (two) back, so every game going forward is huge, especially the series in Chicago.”
Andy Dirks homered for the Tigers (73-66), who remain just two games behind Chicago (75-64) atop the AL Central despite losing five of six. Detroit visits the White Sox for a key four-game series starting Monday.
Peter Bourjos made the final stellar defensive play in a weekend full of Angels gems, sprinting to grab Austin Jackson’s drive into the gap with a Detroit runner on second in the eighth.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an outfield play a better series than they played against us,” Leyland said. “When you’ve got good pitching like they do and a great defense in the outfield, that makes the pitching even better. We lost three ballgames, but we actually hit some balls pretty good this series in the gaps. But everywhere we hit it, they were there. … They made every possible play you could until that last inning today.”
Indeed, the Tigers had multiple chances in the ninth after Angels closer Ernesto Frieri struck out Dirks with a Detroit runner on second to end the eighth. Frieri’s 18th save required four outs, 38 pitches and tense showdowns with every batter in the heart of the Tigers’ powerful lineup.
Miguel Cabrera drew a 10-pitch leadoff walk, but Frieri struck out Prince Fielder and Delmon Young. Boesch grounded to third, but Callaspo mishandled the ball out of his glove.
Frieri then coaxed another grounder to third out of Jhonny Peralta, and Callaspo had no problem with it. The Angels earned their sixth straight victory and moved just one game behind Baltimore in the AL wild-card race after winning 11 of 12 and 15 of 18.
“We’re playing like everybody expects us to play,” said Frieri, who has a 0.83 ERA at home since joining the Angels in early May. “We still believe we’re going to make (the playoffs). The first day I came here, I believed we were going to make it. Now, I’m 100 percent sure.”
With its season-best sixth straight win at Angel Stadium, Los Angeles (77-63) stayed even with Tampa Bay and pulled within one game of Baltimore (78-62). The Orioles and the Oakland Athletics, who open a four-game series in Anaheim on Monday, barely lead the wild-card race, while Detroit remained 4½ games back.
Greinke (5-2) struck out seven in his fourth straight victory, and Callaspo hit an early two-run homer before prolonging the ninth.
Sanchez struck out six Angels in his eighth start for the Tigers since arriving in a trade with Miami. He is 1-4 in his last six outings despite giving up just five runs over 26 2-3 innings in the last four.
“I thought that was the best Sanchez has been,” Leyland said. “He threw the ball better today than I’ve seen since he’s been here. He’s getting better each time out.”
Trout added another chapter to his jaw-dropping rookie season when he drove Sanchez’s second pitch over the wall in deep center. The homer was the 27th for the 21-year-old phenom, setting the team record for a leadoff hitter, and his fourth game-opening homer after doing the same thing Saturday against Justin Verlander.
Greinke retired 10 of 11 after Dirks’ homer in the fourth, but Young scored in the seventh with a two-out single, a throwing error on Erick Aybar, a wild pitch and Boesch’s double. Greinke struck out Peralta to end the threat.
NOTES: Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Weaver felt fine after throwing on the side. The 16-game winner will pitch in the bullpen Monday as he continues his comeback from right shoulder tendinitis. … Angel Campos joined the umpiring crew at second base, replacing Jeff Kellogg, who left Saturday’s game after getting a foul tip off his mask. … Greinke has allowed a homer in a career-worst eight consecutive starts.
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