ANAHEIM -- On a postcard-perfect Sunday in Southern California, it was all about the big picture, not a pitcher shooting imaginary, celebrative arrows into the sky.
The Angels established once again that they're good to the last out. For the Mariners, fighting to prove they're in the same weight class as the two American League West heavyweights from California, there was validation of another kind over a long, challenging weekend at Angel Stadium.
"I'm extremely proud of the way we went about our business," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said following a distressing 6-5 loss giving the series to the Angels. "Listen, we battled probably the best team in baseball and were three outs away from taking two out of three. They protected their turf. Now we have to do that."
Fernando Rodney's ill-timed bow-and-arrow pose at the close of the eighth inning -- eliciting copycat responses from Mike Trout and old buddy Albert Pujols an inning later as the Angels staged the rally culminating in Grant Green's game-winning single -- might or might not have fueled an MLB-best 30th comeback win by the Angels. That goes into the unsolved mystery files.
What we do know for sure after three wild one-run games consuming 37 innings is that the level of play in this division is extraordinarily high. The race promises to be compelling with the third-place Mariners clearly not about to be intimidated by the front-running A's and scorching Angels, who own the best records and highest run differentials in the Majors.
Thanks largely to the brilliance of their pitching staff, the Mariners are fourth in run differential, trailing only their division rivals and Nationals.
"I feel like the Angels are very, very good," veteran Seattle starter Chris Young said, having worked six arduous frames to keep his team even at 3 against young Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs. "I feel like we are good, too. We easily could have won two of these three games.
"There are three really good teams in our division. We're going to have to figure out how to beat those guys."
The Mariners thought they had the finale under control with Rodney, the All-Star with the quirky style, protecting a one-run lead in the ninth after getting the last two outs in the eighth.
Rodney explained later that he launched his familiar game-closing ritual of shooting his imaginary bow-and-arrow following Kole Calhoun's deep out to center in the eighth in response to being booed by fans in the park he called home in 2010 and 2011.
Trout, who'd homered right behind Calhoun's jack in the third inning to get the Angels even against Young, walked on five pitches to start the ninth. Trout was running when Pujols smacked a 1-1 pitch into the right-field corner to tie it with his RBI double.
Bouncing into his Rodney impersonation, Pujols said he was fulfilling a longtime pledge to his Dominican Republic countryman.
"Rile me up?" Pujols said, repeating a question. "No. I've known Fernando for like, 15, 17 years. I always tell him I'm going to do that."
The popular notion that athletes find motivation in acts of disrespect makes for great conversation, but it's impossible to know if there's any truth to it. When Green smacked his two-strike hit through the middle to deliver Josh Hamilton with the winning run, he wasn't thinking about Rodney's behavior.
And Rodney certainly wasn't thinking about Pujols and Trout mimicking him as he delivered the final pitch.
"I didn't see that," Rodney said. "I'll have to check the film. They must've got emotional."
Trout shrugged off a question about his own arrow-shooting act after crossing home plate on Pujols' tying double.
"He's a fun guy," the Angels' superstar center fielder said of Rodney. "No hard feelings."
If they had any hint that the Mariners would drift away and let them duel the A's alone down the stretch, the Angels probably know better now.
Seattle carried a lead into the bottom of the ninth with its best player, durable Robinson Cano, sitting this one out to protect a tight hamstring. Kyle Seager, an emerging star at third base, jump-started the three-run, five-hit first against Skaggs with a homer, his 16th.
"They're a good team over there," Trout said. "Those guys are really playing good ball. It's a tough division.
"We keep fighting to the last out, having great at-bats. We've got great team chemistry. We're having fun here. We got to the game [Saturday night] and said, 'Let's try to win the series' -- and we did it."
Both clubs were drained by the 16 innings of the first game, taken by the Angels. Playing 12 more innings the following night, with a day game coming, served only to compound the weary bones and muscles.
Yet, the desire on both sides and quality of play remained impressive throughout. And the work under duress of Young and Skaggs came from the heart in the finale.
"Skaggs gave us a chance," Trout said. "He's out there battling. He could have easily put his head down, been out of the game. He pitched well and kept us in the game."
The Mariners felt the same way about their man Young, the 6-foot-10 Princeton scholar.
"Very gutty performance," McClendon said. "He didn't have his best stuff, his best command. He really hung in there and gave us six strong innings."
They didn't win the series, but the Mariners certainly won respect. Chasing the only two teams in the sport with winning percentages north of .600 might be daunting, but these guys appear intent on running the full race.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.