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LAA@CWS: Pujols scampers home on passed ball

CHICAGO -- Are the Angels finally back on track, playing the kind of baseball their high-priced team is capable of and on their way to making the long, uphill climb back to relevance? Or is this another mirage, some temporary success against some sluggish competition just before things go south again?

Only time will tell.

"We're playing good baseball, I can tell you that," second baseman Howie Kendrick said, simply, after the Angels notched their third straight victory by beating the White Sox, 3-2, on Saturday.

"Whether this feeds into something else -- all I can tell you is that it's good. Everybody's happy, we're winning, and we just need to keep with it."

Jerome Williams pitched 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball, Mike Trout went deep and, for a third straight night, the bullpen held a lead, with Scott Downs, Garrett Richards and Ernesto Frieri recording the final seven outs on another windy night at U.S. Cellular Field.

It was the second set of back-to-back-to-back wins for the Angels, who are now 14-22 and still nine games back of the first-place Rangers in the American League West. Their first three-game winning streak came April 19-21, during a home sweep of the reigning American League champion Tigers.

At that point, you thought, all the early season concerns were premature and the Angels were on their way -- then they dropped 12 of their next 16 games.

The question now is: How do they build off this?

"You don't take anything for granted, because this game can change on a dime, but it's a good feeling," Angels slugger Mark Trumbo said. "We've won three in a row. We want to stay on it."

Williams was hit hard, but he pitched well -- scattering seven hits, walking one and striking out three -- and handed a one-run lead to a bullpen that's still trying to keep its head above water.

Downs, making his first appearance since hurting his right foot on Thursday, struck out Alejandro De Aza to end the seventh, Richards pitched a scoreless eighth and Frieri recorded his third straight save in the ninth, as the Angels -- despite all the injuries to their pitching staff -- moved to 10-1 when leading after seven.

Asked for indications that his team is on its way to playing good baseball, Angels manager Mike Scioscia pointed to a department that has hurled 15 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

"The one thing you can point to is our bullpen," Scioscia said. "Our bullpen has really responded to the challenge of getting the outs we need."

Trout hit a two-run homer off White Sox starter Jose Quintana in the first, giving him 13 RBIs in his last 11 games, but this was a game won on the little things.

Like Albert Pujols' slick, head-first slide after a passed ball in the third inning, allowing him to avoid the tag to plate the go-ahead run.

Or Josh Hamilton's throw home on De Aza's bases-loaded RBI single, easily gunning down Jeff Keppinger at the plate to help get Williams escape a critical jam.

Or Trumbo's catch on Alex Rios' fly ball, which came only a couple of inches from clearing the yellow line.

"I thought it was way gone," Williams said. "The wind knocked it down and kept it in the ballpark."

The Angels caught a break there, one of very few they've had through the first six weeks of this trying season. And they aren't necessarily playing quality opponents. Thursday's win helped them avoid a sweep against an Astros team picked to finish nowhere but last. And the previous two victories have come against a White Sox club that's now 14-20, has committed five errors in the last 18 innings and called a team meeting before Saturday's contest.

They're still very hurt (with three relievers, one ace and two everyday players on the disabled list). They still aren't winning easy (basically only two of their victories have been lopsided so far). And they still have a long, long way to go.

But late Saturday night -- with the music blaring, the laughs audible and the spirits up -- nobody seemed to care.

"If we go out, have fun and play, and just be loose, I think we'll win a lot of games," Kendrick said. "I think you're starting to see that turn over. Hopefully this continues."

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