Close not enough for Angels again

ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson was in Anaheim a few weeks ago and said his team was "better, 100 percent," than the Los Angeles Angels, he might have been going a bit far.

It might only be better, 99.9999 percent. Come to think of it, add another 9.

The surprising part is the Angels have played the Rangers competitively in head-to-head games, losing five of the seven matchups and being outscored by only four runs. Every game the teams have played except one has been decided by a single run. The other was decided by two.

That's great, but what has it gotten the Angels, who slipped to a near-desperate seven games out of first place in the American League West with Friday night's 1-0 loss at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington? The Angels got two of their better pitching performances of the season on back-to-back nights, first from Jered Weaver and then from Joe Saunders, but both were trumped by Texas' staff.

The Angels never looked as if they could hold off the Rangers on sheer talent. They were supposed to be the more composed, mature team, but Texas has shown plenty of resolve for once. Wilson's comments might even have gotten under the Angels hitters' skin, causing them to swing too hard Friday night.

Afterward, Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said he was aware of Wilson's comments, as were most of his teammates.

"I don't get caught up in that," Hunter said. "That's immaturity."

The Angels pounded the ball for a couple of games in New York, but when they landed here -- fully aware of the magnitude of the series -- their offense disappeared. They actually had better at-bats against Texas ace Cliff Lee than they did Friday against Wilson. The sum total of their output against Wilson was four singles. No Angels runner made it to second base.

"Some guys might be a little bit amped up, maybe swinging a little too hard," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I don't think it has anything to do with being tight. Last night, we hit probably six balls hard and didn't have anything to show for it."

Given the history of these two teams -- and the recent example of the Chicago White Sox -- you can't quite call this thing yet. But if the Angels don't start winning a bunch of games in the next week, they figure to be looking up at two teams, including the Oakland A's. In fact, one loss in the next two games might be enough to end this thing.

"It's not panic mode yet. We've still got two and a half months left to try to turn this thing around," Saunders said.

This is an entirely different kind of Rangers team than the one the Angels have grown used to. The Angels have never seen them play defense this well. They've never seen them pitch this well. Friday's 1-0 shutout was only the ninth in the 16-year history of this cozy, hot, windy stadium. The raw stuff of these pitchers has been imposing. Texas closer Neftali Feliz has saved all five victories for his team against the Angels, who have gone 0-for-14 against him.

It's hard to find an area where the Angels measure up to Texas right now. If nothing else, the Angels still have their pride, and it puffed up at times when reporters suggested Texas' talent edge might be too large for the Angels to bridge.

"I would never say that," Hunter said. "I'm a competitor. If I catch one guy saying that we have no chance, we're fighting. That's not professional sports, period. If you say that, you probably shouldn't be here. I don't care if they're 20 games up. I would never say that."

Key performance

Saunders came into Friday's game with an 11.68 ERA at this ballpark, so it was a little surprising to see him on the mound in the seventh inning. It was even more surprising to see his pitch count by the time he left, 126, a career high.

Nowadays, managers tend to pull starters after 110 pitches or so, but Scioscia figured Saunders' stuff was improving as the game went along, so he gave him a long leash. Saunders said he was happy about it.

"If I'm getting guys out, run me out there again," Saunders said. "I threw 172 in the Babe Ruth League, so 128 hopefully won't hurt me that bad."

Scene and heard

A bunch of Angels players were lounging on clubhouse couches watching a movie before the game. Someone asked pitcher Joel Pineiro to get refreshments. A few minutes later, Pineiro returned with two trays loaded up.

"Popcorn! Raisinettes! Starbursts!" Pineiro barked.

Quote of the day

"It's either one pitch or one mistake or somebody comes up with a great play. We've come out on the losing end this year a little bit, but we still play them 12 more times or something." -- Saunders, getting the number right.

Looking ahead

Ervin Santana (8-7, 3.63 ERA) is becoming the Angels' hard-luck starter. Entering Saturday night's start in Texas, he has pitched at least seven innings in each of his past three outings and lost all three. He hasn't faced Texas since Sept. 28, the day the Angels sprayed champagne after clinching the division.
Santana pitched a complete game in an 11-0 Angels win that day.

The Angels face Scott Feldman (5-8, 5.48), who was one of the Rangers' best starters last year but is in danger of losing his rotation spot. Feldman gave up three home runs in his previous start, at Detroit. The Rangers need a rotation spot when Rich Harden comes off the disabled list and Feldman could be the odd man out, so Saturday's start is a big one for him.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.