ANAHEIM, Calif.--Never have the Angels and Detroit Tigers met in October. If this series is some sort of playoff preview, bring it on.
The Oakland Athletics have the best record in the major leagues, followed by the Angels and then the Tigers. It is a long way to October, but the standings set up now for the teams to play what could be an enticing first-round postseason series.
We could see just how valuable Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are, mano a mano.
We could see the men who have carried the flag for their teams, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver. We could see Garrett Richards, the Angels' budding ace, and Max Scherzer, the Tigers' soon-to-be-free-agent ace.
We could see which team rebuilt their bullpen more effectively this season -- Huston Street, Joe Thatcher and Jason Grilli vs. Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria and Joba Chamberlain.
And we could see a star-studded supporting cast, including Albert Pujols, Victor Martinez, Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter, Ian Kinsler, and Erick Aybar.
On Saturday, for the third consecutive evening, the Angels and Tigers played a taut game.
Angels rookie Efren Navarro hit his first major league home run -- off Verlander, no less -- and drove in two runs in a 4-0 victory over Detroit. Navarro took home the lineup card, and the ball he hit off Verlander.
"For me to hit my first home run off him is very special," Navarro said, "and something I will cherish for the rest of my life."
Another Angels rookie, Matt Shoemaker, pitched seven shutout innings. Shoemaker became the first Michigan-born starting pitcher to beat the Tigers since Derek Lowe did it for the Dodgers in 2005. Shoemaker went to high school and college in Michigan and still lives there.
"I got so many encouraging messages from friends who are die-hard Tiger fans that said, 'We're rooting for you today,'" Shoemaker said. "It was awesome."
The season series between the Angels and Tigers is tied at three games apiece, with the finale -- and rubber match -- set for Sunday.
The Angels have won two of three in this series. The Tigers won two of three when the teams played in Detroit in April.
"I think both teams have evolved," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're going to match up with any team.
"A team like the Tigers, they keep getting deeper and deeper, especially on the pitching side."
The Angels and Tigers rank second and third in the American League in runs -- behind the Athletics, naturally. The Angels average 4.9 runs per game, the Tigers 4.7.
In the six games between the clubs this season, the Angels have averaged 4.0 runs, the Tigers 3.3.
"They can pound the ball, and they can hold leads," Scioscia said. "We've done a good job against them. They're going to swing the bats, no doubt about it. They're good."
Hunter, who played five seasons with the Angels before joining the Tigers last year, said bullpen improvements are critical to both teams. The Tigers added Nathan last winter and Soria last week.
"Joakim Soria is going to help us a lot," Hunter said. "We've made upgrades. They've made upgrades."
Hunter said he thought the Tigers' starting rotation was more experienced, if not necessarily better. He did marvel at the Angels' offense -- even without Hamilton, who was injured Saturday and did not play.
"You look at their offensive production," Hunter said, "with Howie Kendrick and Pujols and the almighty Trout, and even a guy like Kole Calhoun has been swinging the bat pretty well of late.
"We match up pretty well."
Angels 4, Tigers 0
KEY MOMENT: Efren Navarro never had faced Tigers ace Justin Verlander, the 2011 American League Cy Young award winner. If not for an injury to outfielder Josh Hamilton, Navarro would not have started Saturday. But start he did -- and, in his first at-bat off Verlander, Navarro hit his first major league home run.
AT THE PLATE: With Hamilton out, Erick Aybar became the first Angels shortstop to bat cleanup in 32 years. "Everybody knows I'm not a power hitter," Aybar said. "I'll do my best." He had two hits -- both singles -- and a sacrifice bunt. C.J. Cron also had two hits, a single and double. Albert Pujols doubled off Verlander; he has six hits in 12 career at-bats against the Tigers' ace.
ON THE MOUND: Matt Shoemaker (8-3), more than making his case to stay in the Angels' rotation when C.J. Wilson returns from the disabled list, pitched seven shutout innings, giving up three hits and no walks, with five strikeouts. Shoemaker has pitched 182/3 consecutive innings without a walk. Kevin Jepsen and Jason Grilli each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.
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