ANAHEIM -- Mike Trout had already opened the first with a homer. So, about 2 1/2 hours later, he decided to sprint to the warning track, leap high into the air like only he can and steal one away from Prince Fielder to end things. Then fireworks went off. Then Trout, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells did the Captain Morgan pose in the middle of the outfield. And then they all laughed.
Trout's catch put the perfect bookend on a 6-1 victory on Saturday night, giving the Angels five wins in a row, 10 of their last 11 and 14 of their last 17.
Needless to say, they're enjoying themselves.
"This is a lot of fun, man," said Hunter, who has robbed many a home run in his career but never to end a game. "We're playing great baseball, we're having a lot of fun in the clubhouse and in the dugout, on the field, and we're showing everybody, 'Hey, we're capable of winning this thing.' "
One night after a walk-off victory, the Angels continued to show that by touching Tigers ace Justin Verlander for four first-inning runs and getting another solid start from C.J. Wilson to move to a season-high 13 games over .500 and creep ever closer in the standings.
They're still two games back of the second AL Wild Card spot, but the Angels have now moved into a third-place tie with the Rays.
They've done it with a very basic blend: early runs and solid pitching.
Saturday's four-run first -- produced on a homer by Trout, a two-run double by Howie Kendrick and an RBI double by Vernon Wells -- marked the 13th time in the last 14 games that the Angels have scored first. And with one unearned run in 7 2/3 innings by Wilson, and four consecutive outs by Garrett Richards, the Angels' ERA moved to 2.86 over the last 17 games, after being at a Major League-worst 5.59 over the previous 42.
They struggled for the first six weeks, quickly got it together through the All-Star break, began the second half at 14-22 and now, with 23 games left in their season, the Angels seem to be playing their best baseball yet.
Their 14-3 record since Aug. 21 is the best in the Majors.
"Everybody tries to make a two-hour movie out of the season, but in reality it's 162 games and it's really hard to document," Wilson said. "There are so many ups and downs. It's like the stock market. It's doing something every day, but you don't know what it's going to be."
Wilson scattered four hits, walked only two and pitched into the eighth inning for the first time since June 8 to put him at 12-9 with a 3.69 ERA on the year. Albert Pujols went 3-for-3, knocking in a run and scoring two others to put his batting average at .289. And Kendrys Morales had a couple of doubles, giving him his third multihit game in his last four starts.
But Trout, as usual, stole the show.
His homer in the first gave him 26 on the year, tying an Angels franchise record for home runs by a leadoff hitter. His game-ending catch gave him a Major League-best four robbed home runs in 2012.
"It was kind of like an inside-out swing, and the ball kind of drifted on me," Trout said. "The only chance I thought to catch it was to turn, do the spin and get to the wall. I just jumped up and there it was, in my glove."
"He's the best; that's amazing," Wilson added, shaking his head. "Some people, I guess -- I hate to use this word -- are going to player hate, because he's just that good. I mean, he's that good. That's all there is to hit. His highlight-reel catches, his home runs, his basestealing, his batting average, it speaks for itself."
Verlander entered with a 2.73 ERA, was coming off eight innings of one-run ball and carried a no-hitter into the eighth the last time he faced the Angels, on July 31 of last season. But the Angels used four extra-base hits to take a quick 4-0 lead in the first, then added a couple in the third and fourth, on Morales' double and Pujols' single, to move his ERA to 6.76 in five career starts at Angel Stadium.
"They just kind of ambushed him and it worked," said Tigers skipper Jim Leyland, whose club is 4 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race and two off the pace in the AL Central. "A lot of the teams are trying that. This is a game of adjustments and you have to make little adjustments."
Wilson has made adjustments. Over his last three starts, he's tried his best to attack the strike zone, keep it simple and trust the movement on his pitches. It's resulted in three straight victories and a 2.41 ERA in that span.
"I think he did a great job," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He was in the zone early for the most part, threw some good breaking balls in some counts to get guys out, and I think he commanded both sides of the plate, good movement on his pitches and was aggressive in the zone. That's when he's at his best."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.