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Greinke fans seven over seven strong frames

ANAHEIM -- Have the Angels finally shaken off their maddening second-half struggles, getting hot again right before the calendar flips to September and just in time to make a legitimate postseason push?

Time will tell, of course. But if that holds true, and the Angels use this recent stretch as a springboard for meaningful October baseball, they have the Red Sox to thank.

Over their last nine games, the Angels have won seven times. And six of those victories have come against the Red Sox, the latest of which was a Thursday night, 5-2 win sparked by more early offense and another solid outing by Zack Greinke.

The Angels swept the Red Sox at Fenway Park last week -- just before Boston jettisoned Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers -- and swept them at Angel Stadium this week, giving them their first season-series sweep of Boston in franchise history.

During that 6-0 stretch, they outscored them, 47-29.

"They got rid of a lot of guys. Right now, they're kind of in a rebuilding stage," Torii Hunter said of the same team the Angels went 3-15 against the previous two regular seasons. "They still have the good pitching over there with [Jon] Lester -- [Clay] Buchholz pitched pretty well the other night -- but we came through with the win by scoring runs."

Especially early.

The Angels scored in the first inning in every game this series. Against Lester, who came in with a 3.12 ERA in August, Mike Trout led off the game with a walk, Hunter singled to left field and Albert Pujols laced a two-run double down the left-field line, giving him 90 RBIs on the season and the Angels eight first-inning runs in the three-game set.

They then added two more in the third, on RBI singles by Mark Trumbo and Alberto Callaspo, who pinch-hit for Howie Kendrick after the second baseman left the game with a sore right knee.

Hunter, Pujols and Trumbo combined to go 7-for-12.

"You've got to hand it to those guys," Lester said. "They had a better game plan than we did early on. It's probably one of the better -- I should say one of the best lineups in the American League, just for the simple fact they could do everything. They can hit-and-run. They can steal. They can score from first base on singles, on doubles. It's pretty impressive to see some of those guys run around the bases."

Greinke was hit pretty hard, but only gave up two runs on five hits in a seven-inning, 107-pitch outing. The former Brewers ace pitched well in his Angels debut in late July, then struggled mightily in his next four, combining to post a 7.20 ERA while the Angels went 1-3.

But he gave up just one run in 7 2/3 innings against the Tigers at Comerica Park on Friday, and followed that up with another strong outing against Boston, putting his ERA with the Angels at 4.82 -- and seemingly trending downward.

"I guess the main thing was not worrying about messing up," Greinke said with a wry smile. "I was already doing so bad, so one more bad game isn't a big deal. I was just kind of pitching and letting things happen, and it's been working good the last two games, doing it that way."

The Red Sox loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Greinke was able to limit them only to a sacrifice fly. That began a stretch in which Greinke retired 12 of 14 batters, before surrendering a solo homer to James Loney in the sixth.

"They were popping up my fastball a lot," he said. "A lot of them were deep, but they were in the park. Just enough so our outfielders could run them down."

After just three days at home, the Angels hit the road once again, starting a six-game road trip on Friday against the Mariners and the AL Wild Card-leading Athletics. The win kept them 3 1/2 games back of the second Wild Card spot and put them 8 1/2 behind the idle Rangers in the AL West.

Playing the Red Sox may have brought them back to life.

"There's a little frustration that we've dealt with throughout the season, and I think the frustration has not dampened anything about these guys and reaching our goal, and I think that speaks volume to the character that's in that clubhouse right there," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're going to keep playing hard. And it's in front of us. That's what we've talked about. If we play to our level, that we can, we're going to have a great chance to reach our goal."

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