ANAHEIM -- With first place in the American League West in the balance, Jered Weaver was amped. A little too amped for his own good, he realized, after the Rangers scored a pair of first-inning runs following what he felt was an inning-ending third strike to Hank Blalock. Weaver cooled down, the Angels soon caught fire, and when it was all over at Angel Stadium, a 9-4 decision and the division lead were securely in the hands of the two-time reigning AL West champs.
"When you look at their lineup, one through six, that's as good as it gets," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Sometimes you get through it, and sometimes you don't. "Seven, eight and nine aren't easy, either. That's a tough lineup to make it through, and we didn't get it done." Kevin Millwood, the Rangers' ace, was knocked around for nine earned runs across five long, difficult innings. Twice in Arlington, where the Rangers have taken five of six from the Angels, Millwood had kept the Angels quiet. Not this time. Catcher Jeff Mathis' three-run homer against Millwood (8-6) got the Angels rolling in the second inning. Their 3-4-5 hitters -- Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Juan Rivera -- combined for seven hits and five RBIs. Weaver, meanwhile, overcame his early issues, settled into a nice groove, and breezed through seven innings to move to 9-3. The disappointment of not making the AL All-Star team -- an emotion no doubt shared by Millwood -- gave way to his competitive instincts once Weaver fell behind by two runs before his side had swung a bat. "I came back into the dugout after the first and knew I had to put up some zeroes to give us a chance," the slender right-hander said. "Our offense was up against a guy having a great season, like Millwood. We had to put stress on them. "I just wanted to go out and make pitches, which I was able to do." Mathis was calling them, and he put his batterymate in the lead with a three-run blast to left-center. Millwood threw him nothing but heaters. The last one, on a full count, was in Mathis' wheelhouse. "He got me a couple of times in Texas," Mathis said. "Maybe he was trying to put it away, but he got it up. I was looking for something a little different and managed to get good wood on it. "Any time you help the team, put them back ahead, that's a good feeling." The Angels have produced 29 runs in the past three games, erasing deficits on each occasion. Only the Yankees (25) have more come-from-behind wins than manager Mike Scioscia's troupe, with 24. "You've got to give them credit; they swung the bats well," Rangers All-Star third baseman Michael Young said. "The middle of their lineup did a great job. "It's just one of those times where you chalk it up to being one of those nights. When Millwood is on the mound, we feel we have a good shot of winning, but it just didn't happen." Singles by Young, Josh Hamilton (returning to action after missing 30 games with an abdominal strain) and Blalock, along with a fielding error by third baseman Chone Figgins, handed Millwood a 2-0 lead. Weaver thought he had Blalock struck out, but a later review of video informed him that home-plate umpire Laz Diaz was right after all. "Looking at it, it was [inside]," Weaver said. "I just kind of got frustrated with myself and didn't back up third [on the throw that got past Figgins], which cost us a run. "It's that time of the season when every game's going to be big -- especially with what's going on with Seattle, Texas and ourselves. We're only halfway through the season, a long way to go. But every game against these guys is going to be important." Mathis' homer, his third of the year, followed Rivera's first of three singles and a walk by Kendry Morales. All-Star Final Vote candidate Figgins, who scored twice and walked three times, led off the third with a free pass, and consecutive singles by Hunter, Guerrero and Rivera had the Angels in front, 5-2. After Hunter robbed Blalock with a spectacular leaping catch against the wall in right-center in the fourth, the Angels erupted in the sixth. Figgins again was the instigator with a leadoff walk, followed by singles by Bobby Abreu and Hunter, an RBI double by Guerrero and an RBI single by Rivera. Morales' sacrifice fly made it 9-2. Ian Kinsler, ending an 0-for-24 spin, hit a two-run homer against Weaver in the seventh. "We're starting to get a deeper lineup, and in the bullpen we're starting to get roles more defined," said Scioscia, who got an inning of scoreless relief from Justin Speier and another from Kevin Jepsen. "We're starting to move toward the team we need to be."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.