Saunders outdueled in Angels' defeat
Club falls seven games behind Rangers in AL West race
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are known for their thunder, but it is apparent now that there is much more to the American League West leaders than loud, offensive noises.
They're showing the Angels they can win with pitching and defense, qualities very much in evidence again on Friday night, when Michael Young's first-inning home run against Joe Saunders was all C. J. Wilson needed to claim the duel of lefties, with an inning of relief from Neftali Feliz.
With Wilson emulating fellow southpaw Cliff Lee, the Rangers put away the Angels, 1-0, in front of a sellout of 46,554 at Rangers Ballpark to take a commanding seven-game lead in a division that has belonged to the Angels for three consecutive seasons and five of the past six.
"I made one mistake in the first inning, and it kind of cost us," Saunders said. "I made some adjustments from then on and kept us in the ballgame.
"We still play them, what, 12 times? It's not panic mode yet. There's still two months [and a week] left to turn this thing around. It's a learning experience. It shows what a team is made of. Either we fold, or we play [hard] the rest of the year. I'm confident we'll do that."
The season series has been about as tight as these things get. The Rangers have taken five of seven, but six of the seven games have been decided by one run, the other by two runs.
"It was just a game where everything went our way," Wilson said. "They're obviously a really good team, and that's why it was a one-run game. We play tight games against them every time. There's not going to be blowouts. This is what I'm sure the playoffs will be like."
The Rangers are making a move in that direction, while the Angels are stalled.
"We're still unsettled in a couple of areas on the offensive side," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We need to bring it together, no doubt about it."
The newest Angels player, Alberto Callaspo, had one of the four hits against Wilson. The third baseman stole a run from Texas with a superb play on Ian Kinsler's sharp grounder following Young's double in the third inning.
Saunders, throwing 126 pitches, fell to 6-10 -- and 0-6 at Rangers Ballpark.
Wilson moved to 9-4 doing a nice impersonation of Lee, the veteran who took the series opener from Jered Weaver, 3-2.
"He wasn't going for punchouts at all," the Angels' Torii Hunter said of Wilson, who fell seven shy of his strikeout total (10) in his previous outing in Boston. "He was going for early-count groundouts.
"He was different than I've seen him before. He was throwing like Cliff Lee. He stayed away all night, throwing backdoor cutters. That's why Cliff Lee's been so successful -- and [Wilson] was very successful tonight."
After dropping a 2-1 decision to Weaver in Anaheim on July 1, Wilson had talked about how the Rangers were the superior team. Asked about those remarks, Hunter attributed them to "immaturity" and said there was "no point in getting into that."
Hunter was 3-for-6 with a pair of homers against Wilson coming in, but he was 0-for-3 this time, driving one ball deep to right for an out.
"He's been kind of the bane of my existence for a couple of years now," Wilson said. "He's hit me really well. He's the best player, so you don't want to give him a chance to hit the home run."
After Feliz worked a perfect ninth for his 27th save, the Angels -- 7-12 in July -- were shut out for the third time this season. It was the ninth 1-0 game in the history of the hitter-friendly ballpark.
Young went deep for the second night in a row in the first inning. After going the other way to right against Weaver, he pulled Saunders' full-count fastball to left-center an estimated 402 feet for his 14th homer.
The Rangers put runners in scoring position in each of the next four innings, but Saunders kept slamming the door.
"This is not an easy ballpark to pitch in unless you're getting the ball down," Scioscia said. "Tonight, Joe did that. He maintained his stuff. His last four or five pitches, even though he was tired, still had good life on them. That's a good sign after 120-some pitches."
Saunders, citing Rangers president Nolan Ryan's belief that pitch counts are overrated, wasn't concerned about a career-high 126.
"I threw 172 in a Babe Ruth League game when I was 13," Saunders said. "All heaters. And that was seven innings."
Wilson surrendered singles in each of the first three innings before launching a run of 15 consecutive outs. The Southern California native didn't register a K until Bobby Abreu and Hunter went down swinging in the seventh.
Wilson threw strikes and relied on his defense to take care of things between Reggie Willits' one-out single in the third and Callaspo's one-out single in the eighth.
Feliz, with only two blown saves this season, is fast gaining a reputation as an Angels killer.
The smooth right-hander with the 98-99-mph fastball has retired all 14 Angels he has faced in five appearances this season. In eight career games, Feliz has yielded two hits and two walks while facing 31 hitters, striking out nine.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.