Angels regain 2nd in AL West with win vs. Rangers, but still 8 games back

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Overcoming a five-run lead is one thing. Overcoming a nine-game deficit is another.

The Los Angeles Angels took the first step on a path they hope will enable them to get back into the AL West race against the division-leading Texas Rangers.

Juan Rivera homered and drove in four runs, Erick Aybar also went deep, and the Angels handed Tommy Hunter his first loss of the season with a 9-7 victory over Texas on Friday night.

Ervin Santana (10-7) beat the Rangers for the second time in seven days despite one of his worst outings of the season. The right-hander allowed seven runs -- four earned -- and 10 hits over six innings with four strikeouts.

"I feel like I have nothing -- no command, no concentration," Santana said. "To get a win, I credit my teammates. We never give up, we keep fighting and see what happens. Our offense did a good job, and the bullpen too."

Trevor Bell and Fernando Rodney both pitched a scoreless inning of relief and Brian Fuentes worked a perfect ninth for his 19th save in 23 attempts, helping snap the Angels' four-game losing streak.

The victory put the Angels back into second place in the division, but they trail the Rangers by eight games. It was the second time this season the Angels won after trailing by as many as five runs. They did it on May 30, in a 9-7 win against Seattle, when Howie Kendrick led the comeback with two home runs -- including a two-run shot in the ninth.

Hunter (8-1) was charged with eight runs and eight hits in three-plus innings, six days after beating the Angels 6-4 at Texas. The right-hander was staked to leads of 5-0 and 7-4 in the rematch, but was pulled in the fourth after giving up hits to his first four batters.

"You never want to lose, but I'm just going to put it in the back of my memory," Hunter said. "I didn't throw very good pitches. I missed over the middle of the plate and they took advantage of it. They're big league hitters. I'll be back out there for the next one in five days."

Rivera hit an RBI single, and No. 9 hitter Mike Napoli followed with a run-scoring double that chased Hunter and sliced the margin to 7-6. Aybar tied the score with a sacrifice fly on Matt Harrison's first pitch, and Maicer Izturis put the Angels in front with an RBI single.

That closed the books on Hunter, whose ERA increased a full run to 3.31 in 11 starts this season.

"I certainly wasn't expecting three innings out of him tonight," manager Ron Washington said. "He just left too many pitches in the middle of the plate. And they didn't miss. I thought we played well enough to win that ballgame. We put up seven runs in four innings, but we just couldn't stop them. You've got to give those guys credit over there because they kept battling and put up more runs than we did. When we put up seven runs, we expect to win."

This was the fourth time in five starts Hunter allowed two home runs.

"It's not a concern. He gives up home runs," Washington said. "He threw a breaking ball to Rivera and I thought it was down in the middle of the plate, but that guy went down and got it and hammered it. The one by Aybar was up. It just wasn't his night. I think you could say that if he had his breaking ball and his changeup and could have hit his spots a little better, maybe one of those four-run innings that he had wouldn't have happened."

Bobby Abreu capped the scoring with a two-out RBI double in the sixth.

The Rangers scored in each of the first four innings, including three unearned runs in the first after shortstop Aybar's throwing error. Nelson Cruz extended his hitting streak to 18 games in the fourth with his 15th homer, giving Texas a 7-4 lead.

Elvis Andrus scored on a double by AL batting leader Josh Hamilton, who came in 2-for-18 against Santana, and David Murphy delivered two more with a two-out single.

"We have a ton of confidence when Tommy's on the mound," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "We thought we were in good shape with the early lead, but they did a good job of not letting us add on late in the game."

Vladimir Guerrero, who spent the previous six seasons with the Angels before signing with the Rangers as a free agent in January, increased the margin to 5-0 in the second with a two-out single. But the Halos stormed back in the bottom half with Rivera's three-run homer and Aybar's two-out solo shot.

Game notes
Hamilton switched from CF to LF in the fifth inning because of a recurring problem with patella tendinitis. He left the game in the seventh. ... RHP Rich Harden, on the DL since June 12 because of a strained left gluteus muscle, is expected to be activated Saturday to start for Texas against former Oakland teammate Dan Haren. The Rangers' scheduled starter, Scott Feldman, will work out of the bullpen after going 0-3 with a 6.17 ERA in his last six starts.