For 128 pitches, Ervin Santana scrapped, clawed and somehow held off the relentless Texas Rangers. When Ian Kinsler put Santana's 129th pitch softly into left field, the Rangers demonstrated why the Angels just don't appear capable of holding them down this season.
Kinsler hit a tiebreaking two-run single with two outs in the eighth inning, and the Rangers rallied for their third straight victory over the Los Angeles Angels, 4-3 on Wednesday night.
Kinsler came up with the Angel Stadium crowd on its feet to cheer Santana, who had struck out two Rangers and had two strikes on Kinsler after Texas loaded the bases with no outs. Kinsler broke his bat on Santana's slider, but got the ball over the infield.
"It was loud. The whole stadium knew what was going on," Kinsler said. "That's the most fun part about the whole game. ... I was battling against (Santana) all night. He was battling me with sliders, battling me with the heater. We were getting guys on base, but couldn't beat him. That was our opportunity, and we almost let it slip by. I was just trying to get it in there somewhere."
Whether they're doing it with homers or broken-bat bloops, the defending AL champions have been too much for the struggling Angels this week, taking a commanding seven-game lead in the AL West before Thursday's series finale. Michael Young had his third straight three-hit game for the Rangers, who have 43 hits in the series after pounding out 12 more.
Mitch Moreland homered and Josh Hamilton hit a run-scoring single for the Rangers, who have won six straight to open a 10-game road trip. C.J. Wilson (12-5) yielded five hits over seven innings for the Rangers (72-52), who are a season-best 20 games over .500 for the first time since 1999 by seizing control of this key four-game series.
The Rangers again downplayed the significance of this head-to-head matchup against their only remaining competition for the division title, but a little excitement still leaked out.
"The whole game, I'm worked up tonight more than I've ever been worked up so far," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "The whole atmosphere was great. It was just the game, with C.J. and Santana going at it."
Mark Trumbo had an early RBI double and Howie Kendrick homered in the eighth inning for the Angels, who have lost five straight and seven of eight. Los Angeles trailed the Rangers by 1½ games early last week before sliding to the fringe of the playoff race during this disastrous stretch.
"There's nothing deflating about it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Obviously, the longer it takes to start stringing together a streak and stringing together wins, the tougher it is to accomplish this, but this is doable."
Kendrick hit a two-out homer off reliever Koji Uehara, but Neftali Feliz pitched the ninth for his 24th save, stranding Trumbo on third base.
After routing Los Angeles in the first two games of the series, Texas trailed 2-0 in the first inning before coming back against Santana (9-9), who had won five consecutive starts with a no-hitter during a nine-game unbeaten streak.
Texas beat rookie starters for the Angels in the first two games of the series, but was nearly as effective against Santana, who gave up 10 hits and four walks. He had four strikeouts, including the 1,000th of his career in the first inning, but lost for the first time in 10 starts since June 21
"We've still got a more than month to go, so we have to keep playing hard and anything can happen," Santana said. "We just have to play our game. ... I didn't have my best stuff, but it's a good battle."
Wilson pitched six straight scoreless innings after a rocky start. After Trumbo's drive to right field in the first inning hit near the top of the elevated fence and bounced back onto the field. Torii Hunter slid safely into home, adeptly touching home plate with his hand to beat the tag.
The Rangers got a runner on base in every inning against Santana, but didn't score until Hamilton drove in Elvis Andrus in the fifth. Moreland then tied it with his 14th homer leading off the sixth.
"There's no doubt that Ervin was pitching with his back against the wall, even though he had a two-run lead," Scioscia said. "Those guys have power all the way through their lineup, and they're going to keep going. After we got those two early runs, they kept putting up zeros and kept pressuring us and got back into the game. We wanted to give Ervin a little bit of a comfort zone, but we weren't able to do that."
NOTES: The Angels hope ace Jered Weaver can end their slide when he takes the mound in the series finale on Thursday. Texas counters with 11-game winner Colby Lewis. ... Hunter extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a sixth-inning single. ... The Angels recalled Jerome Williams from the minors before the game, and the veteran right-hander made his first major league appearance since May 15, 2007, in the ninth inning, giving up two hits.