ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — After a weekend filled with mostly miserable swings, David Freese surprised his teammates, the Angel Stadium fireworks crew and even himself when he hit a tiebreaking homer.
Nobody was stunned when another dominant pitching performance from the Los Angeles Angels kept them near the top of the majors.
Freese homered off Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning, and the Angels beat the Detroit Tigers 2-1 Sunday for their third straight victory.
Freese’s sixth homer of the season helped to finish a tense, pitching-dominated series between teams with two of the majors’ top three records. Los Angeles took three of four in the series despite scoring just eight runs in its victories.
After the previous five batters struck out, Freese delivered one of the biggest hits in his up-and-down debut season with the Angels, driving a one-out pitch from Chamberlain (1-4) to the fake rock pile beyond the center field fence.
“I’ve taken some wonderful hacks over the last three games or so — just some terrible swings,” said Freese, who had been 5 for 31 on the Angels’ homestand. “I put a good one on that. I guess they call them slumps because you always get out of them.”
Everybody was a bit stunned: The Big A’s customary blast of celebratory fireworks wasn’t even launched until Freese had rounded the bases, much later than normal for a homer.
Erick Aybar scored from second base on Rick Porcello’s poor pickoff throw in the fifth for the Angels, who improved the majors’ second-best record to 63-41 in the finale of a 10-game homestand.
Hector Santiago and three Angels relievers combined on a three hitter as Detroit managed just one hit in its final 25 at-bats, getting just one baserunner after the first inning.
“If you can go five and keep us in the game, it’s almost a guarantee they’re going to come in and put up a zero,” Santiago said of his bullpen. “We used to be scared if we left guys on base. Now it’s like we just sit back and watch the rest of the game.”
Joe Smith (4-0) pitched the eighth for Los Angeles, which got nine innings of scoreless, two-hit relief pitching in its three straight wins over Detroit.
Huston Street pitched the ninth for his third save in four appearances with his new club.
Victor Martinez had an RBI double in the first inning for the Tigers, who have lost nine of 10 at the Big A.
After a rough first inning, Santiago retired 14 straight Tigers in another strong start for the Angels. The left-hander yielded three hits while pitching into the sixth inning of his seventh straight appearance without a loss following his 0-7 start to the year.
Porcello pitched seven innings of five-hit ball for the Tigers, but left without his 13th victory, which would have matched St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright for the major league lead. Porcello struck out six, including the last four batters he faced, and only allowed a runner to reach second base in the fifth inning, when Aybar and Kendrick had back-to-back singles.
Porcello then threw a pickoff attempt into center field, and Aybar alertly scampered all the way home when Austin Jackson and the Tigers’ middle infielders forgot about the All-Star, failing to hustle the ball home.
“We’ve talked to Austin,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “He knows that can’t happen, and it certainly won’t happen again. He’s got to be aware of where that lead runner is. You can’t take anything for granted. It’s certainly not the way you want to give up the tying run, or any run at all.”
Porcello acknowledged his own mistake as well.
“I just didn’t execute the play,” Porcello said. “You take a chance, backpicking at second base, but you know that kind of thing can happen. You really have to be on the money with that throw. I yanked the throw and pulled it, and it ended up being a pretty big play.”
Santiago needed 28 pitches to get out of the first inning, though he allowed just one run. Ian Kinsler singled and eventually scored on Martinez’s drive to the right-field wall.
NOTES: Rookie Angels reliever Mike Morin retired all five Tigers he faced after relieving Santiago, striking out Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera to end the sixth. … Cabrera also struck out to end the game, capping an 0-for-4 day for the former AL MVP. “He’s been a little frustrated all year because of the post-surgery,” Ausmus said. “Everything isn’t in sync for him, and he’s having trouble right now.” … Mike Trout went 2 for 15 in the series.