Texas manager Ron Washington had Jered Weaver in his clubhouse and in his dugout less than two weeks ago when the major leagues' ERA leader was his starter in the All-Star game. He never should have let him go.
The Los Angeles Angels' ace pitched like one again Thursday against the Rangers, winning a riveting duel with All-Star teammate C.J. Wilson and capitalizing on a rare error by center fielder Endy Chavez for a 1-0 victory.
"When you see him, he looks flaky," Washington said of Weaver, a lanky 6-foot-7 right-hander with the flowing blond locks. "You think he's one of those surfer guys that hangs out at the beach. But he's a pro. He's into his craft, man. He's totally into his craft, and he's a quality pitcher."
Weaver (13-4) scattered seven hits over seven-plus innings and struck out six to win his seventh straight decision and reduce his ERA to 1.81 -- the lowest ever by an Angels pitcher through his first 21 starts of a season.
"He does a good job of pitching to hitters' weaknesses," Washington said. "He seems to know exactly what they're looking for and throws the opposite stuff. He's grown as a pitcher in the years that we've seen him. To me, the biggest improvement he's made it that he's always ahead in the count. When he first came up, I think he tried to get a lot of his outs out of the strike zone. But now his command is so much better. He lives on the edges and he comes in when he has to."
Wilson (10-4) held the Angels to two hits over eight innings, struck out eight and walked one. The 30-year-old left-hander, who was pushed up day ahead of homer-prone Colby Lewis so that he could face the Angels, allowed a leadoff single by rookie Mark Trumbo in the fifth and a two-out double by Macier Izturis in the eighth.
Weaver retired the first two batters in six of the first seven innings. Elvis Andrus doubled with one out in the first and was thrown out at third by Jeff Mathis on the front end of an attempted double steal after a walk to Josh Hamilton.
"It wasn't fun for us and it wasn't fun for the Rangers," Angels designated hitter Torii Hunter said. "I'm sure all 18 hitters that started were frustrated. But it was an old-time pitcher's duel and everyone else loved it. We hated it."
The Angels got a break in the second when rookie Mike Trout's routine flyball with two outs broke off the glove of Chavez in right-center for an error that allowed Howie Kendrick to score from second. Kendrick was hit by a pitch in the foot and stole second.
"I felt like I made a couple of mistakes, so I wasn't perfect. If you're not perfect, you can't expect to win," Wilson said. "You always need offense to score, and we just didn't score today. So whether I gave up one run or five runs, it's the same result -- a loss. I just wish I would have not hit Kendrick in the foot with that slider. That was the turning point in the game, obviously, giving them a cheap run like that."
It was the first error this season by Chavez and the first by any Rangers outfielder since July 3, when Hamilton overthrew catcher Yorvit Torrealba trying to keep Florida's Wes Helms from scoring on a single to center by Emilio Bonifacio, who took an extra base.
The Angels won the rubber game of the three-game set one day after rallying from a five-run deficit to end the Rangers' 12-game winning streak. They have moved within three games of the AL West leaders.
"I don't think it's a sour taste," first baseman Mitch Moreland said. "Of course yesterday and today were not the results we wanted, but it's going to happen. So we're got to get it back together. We get to go home and back into our environment and we'll start playing good ball again."
The Angels are scheduled to play 10 of their final 41 regular-season games against the Rangers, including a season-ending three-game set at Anaheim.
"It probably will," Washington said when asked if he thought the division race will go down to the wire. "But I'm not concerned about Anaheim. I'm concerned about the Texas Rangers and who we're going to be playing next. When we see the Angels, we'll play them. But I don't watch the box scores, wondering what Anaheim is doing. And I'm quite sure they don't do the same with us."
Weaver matched his win total of last year, allowing fewer than three runs for the seventh straight outing and giving a much-needed boost to a pitching staff that had surrendered up 24 runs over its previous three games. His biggest out by far was in the sixth, when he struck out Moreland on an elevated 2-2 fastball with the bases loaded and punched the air with his fist after walking off the mound.
"He commands all of his pitches and throws them in any count, anytime, so you had to be ready for anything," Moreland said. "When you're going up against a guy like that, you've just got to grind it out. He worked both sides of the plate, threw a good changeup and spotted his heater, which made the changeup more effective. He was throwing his breaking balls for strikes, too."
Weaver was lifted after Andrus led off the eighth with a single on his 122nd pitch. Scott Downs retired the next three batters and All-Star rookie Jordan Walden got three outs in the ninth for his 23rd save in 29 chances, breaking the Angels' rookie record set by Ken Tatum in 1969 -- the first season that saves became an official statistic.
"C.J. certainly pitched well enough to win a ballgame," Washington said. "You couldn't have asked any more from him. That was two great pitchers that battled today. Sometimes, good pitching stops good hitting. And that's what happened today."
NOTES: Weaver is 7-0 with a 2.32 ERA in 11 career starts against the Rangers in Anaheim. ... The Rangers are 22-15 with a .286 team batting average and averaging 5.35 runs since firing hitting coach Thad Bosley on June 8 and replacing him with Triple-A hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh. Before the change, the club had a .261 average and was averaging 4.7 runs. ... Wilson's only complete-game victory in the majors was on May 7, 2001, when he beat Kansas City 4-1 with a five-hitter at the Ballpark in Arlington. ... Trout robbed Michael Young of extra bases with a diving catch in center field leading off the second. ... Weaver has allowed one home run in 12 starts since May 13, when Andrus and Adrian Beltre took him deep in the Rangers' 4-1 win at Arlington.