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Angels lose playoff ground on Texas’ late rally

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Texas Rangers' Adrian Beltre, right, hits a two-run home run as Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta, center, and home plate umpire Bill Welke look on during the ninth inning of their baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Thursday, Sept. 20,

Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, right, hits a two-run home run as Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta, center, and home plate umpire Bill Welke look on during the ninth inning of their baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif.

Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. — When Adrian Beltre's ninth-inning homer off closer Ernesto Frieri bounced up the tunnel behind the left-field fence, the Los Angeles Angels realized another chunk of their fading playoff hopes had just left the building as well.

Beltre hit a tiebreaking two-run shot after Yu Darvish and Zack Greinke dueled through eight innings, and the Texas Rangers dealt yet another blow to their AL West rivals with a 3-1 victory Thursday night.

Texas (89-60) improved the AL's best record and stayed four games ahead of Oakland (85-64) in the AL West by taking two of three from the Angels (81-69), who dropped 4½ games behind the Athletics and Baltimore in the wild-card standings.

The big-budget Angels have lost two straight after winning 15 of 20 in their late playoff push, which appears to be coming up short for the third straight year.

"Losses are tough at any time, but especially now," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We need to regroup with the understanding that we have to create some momentum. It's still out there for us if we get on the roll that we're capable of, (but) any time you lose, you slip back a little further and it's going to be more difficult."

Beltre connected for his 34th homer against Frieri (3-2), who was defiant after hanging a slider to one of the majors' best power hitters. He gave up a ninth-inning homer in relief of Greinke for the second time in six days.

"That was the pitch that I wanted to throw," Frieri said. "He hit it. So what? Every pitch that I made is because I wanted to throw it. He's a good hitter, and that happens. Maybe I didn't put that pitch where I wanted to put it, but I wanted to throw that pitch."

Beltre missed Wednesday's game and nearly sat out Thursday with abdominal troubles before talking his way into the lineup during batting practice. He went 0 for 3 against Greinke, but went deep after Michael Young's leadoff single.

"I was glad to be in there, and I'm just glad (manager Ron Washington) allowed me to be in there," Beltre said. "This is the time of year you want to play. It's not the place or time to relax right now, especially against an opponent in our division."

Darvish (16-9) held the Angels to four hits and struck out nine while matching Greinke, who gave up five hits and struck out eight. Neither team managed an extra-base hit in the first eight innings.

Darvish was largely unhittable for the fifth consecutive start, repeatedly mixing 95-mph fastballs and 65-mph breaking balls while retiring 14 of the Angels' first 16 hitters. The rookie is actually getting better as he closes in on his first major league-playoff experience, leaving Young marveling at the Japanese right-hander's improvements.

"I'm learning about myself, especially before this (good) stretch, when I wasn't consistent and wasn't performing," Darvish said through a translator. "These outings are something the team expects. They acquired me to perform like this."

Joe Nathan gave up a two-out double to Albert Pujols in the ninth, but got Kendrys Morales on a fly to finish his 34th save.

Nelson Cruz had two hits and scored the first run in the fifth inning for the Rangers, but Los Angeles tied it in the sixth on Torii Hunter's grounder.

Greinke didn't lose his rhythm after Frieri gave away his last outing in spectacular fashion. The normally reliable closer gave up two homers in four pitches while blowing a two-run lead in the ninth after he took over for Greinke, who had thrown 109 pitches — the same number he had through eight innings Thursday.

"I just pitch as long as I can, and Scioscia makes the decisions from there," Greinke said. "Frieri has been pitching great all year, and his job is the ninth inning. ... The good thing is that we have two teams we could catch. The toughest thing for us is that we're playing tough teams right now. I know it won't be easy, but it's definitely possible."

After a slow start in Orange County, Greinke has been everything the Angels anticipated when they acquired him in July from Milwaukee, going 4-0 with a 1.60 ERA in his last six starts while holding every opponent to two runs or fewer.

He didn't walk a Texas batter, never even getting into a three-ball count until the seventh inning.

NOTES: Scioscia says struggling LHP C.J. Wilson is keeping his spot in the rotation despite failing to make it out of the third inning Wednesday night. ... Los Angeles opens a weekend series with the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, with Ervin Santana facing Jake Peavy. Texas opens a three-game series in Seattle.