ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Johnny Giavotella left the Los Angeles Angels five weeks ago while they were plunging to the fringe of the AL playoff race. When he returned on Friday night, the scrappy second baseman added two big hits to the Angels' latest win in an impressive surge back up the standings.
Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron hit two-run homers, and the Angels moved within a half-game of playoff position with an 8-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
Mike Trout went 3 for 5 with an RBI double as the Angels (79-74) won their third straight and nearly closed the gap on the Houston Astros (80-74), who lost to Texas, for the second AL wild card spot. Los Angeles also moved past the Minnesota Twins (78-75), who lost at Detroit.
''Guys can tell we're right in the thick of things,'' said Giavotella, who missed 31 games with a nerve palsy that gave him double vision. ''You can tell every pitch is important. This is something I love to be a part of.''
Giavotella tripled and drove in two runs for the late-charging Angels, who dropped far off the playoff pace while going 10-19 in August. They're 14-8 in September, with six wins in eight games.
''It's right where you want to be, definitely,'' said Pujols, who hit his 557th career homer. ''But we haven't earned anything. We're just playing baseball, and we still have a few games left. We just need to win series and do whatever it takes to come out with the `W' every night, and then we'll see what happens at the end.''
After winning their series in Houston and Minnesota during a 10-game road trip, the Angels opened their final homestand of the season with a rare offensive barrage including 14 hits. Pujols homered during the Angels' four-run first inning, and Cron added his 15th shot in the seventh.
They provided plenty of help for Garrett Richards (15-11), who struck out eight in seven innings of five-hit ball.
''I thought we had real good at-bats against him and got his pitch count up,'' Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said of Richards. ''We battled and had him in trouble all night, but we couldn't get the big hit to put us over the hump.''
Nelson Cruz hit his 43rd homer and Logan Morrison drove in two runs for the Mariners, who have lost three straight for the first time since Aug. 19-22. Vidal Nuno (1-4) gave up four runs on his first 14 pitches, and he was chased in the fifth after yielding nine hits and five runs.
Cruz connected against Richards in the first inning, tying Baltimore's Chris Davis for the major league lead in homers.
But the Angels evened it on Nuno's first seven pitches, and they took a 4-1 lead after seven more.
Erick Aybar hit a leadoff double and scored when Trout's jammed popup landed in right for a bloop double.
''They're fighting for a wild card spot, and they hit the ball good in the first inning,'' Nuno said. ''I was throwing that changeup a little bit too often. Trout got that bloop, then I was trying to go in on Pujols and missed my spot, and it was a 3-1 ballgame.''
Giavotella drove in runs in the fourth and sixth innings, punctuating his sixth-inning triple with a belly-flop slide into third.
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Richards says he will start on three days' rest next weekend if the Angels' 162nd game of the season is going to determine their playoff fate. He is slated to start the final game of this homestand Wednesday against Oakland.
Pujols connected for his 37th homer, his biggest total in the $240 million slugger's four seasons with the Angels. Although he can barely run due to a sore foot, Pujols has two homers in his last three games after hitting just one in his previous 25 games.
Mariners: McClendon isn't sure whether left-hander James Paxton will pitch again this season, thanks to his torn fingernail.
Angels: Giavotella only regained his normal vision a week ago. ''I was pretty much cross-eyed the first week after the incident,'' he said. ''It's nice to be able to see again.''
Mariners: Felix Hernandez (18-9, 3.54 ERA) needs a victory to keep alive his shot at his first 20-win season.
Angels: Rookie Andrew Heaney (6-3, 3.30 ERA) pitched seven scoreless innings while winning in Seattle in July.