ANAHEIM -- Hank Conger was almost certain he could go first to third on a base hit to center, until Yasiel Puig's laser arm proved otherwise and altered the course of Wednesday night's game in the sixth inning. The Angels looked primed to win in the bottom of the ninth, with none out and the tying run on second, until Kenley Jansen motored through Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to lock down his 32nd save.
Another loss to the Dodgers, another close game in this second half.
The Angels' 2-1 defeat in front of a sold-out home crowd kept them two games back of the A's in the American League West and put them at 10-9 since the All-Star break. Sixteen of those games have been decided by fewer than three runs, a play here and a play there making all the difference as the summer winds down and the division race heats up.
"That's good," Pujols said. "Sometimes it's going to go our way and sometimes it's going to go the other way. We just need to continue to push. These are the things that help you for the playoffs."
On Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, the Angels plated three runs in the first three innings against Clayton Kershaw, who carried a 0.68 ERA in his previous eight starts. The following night, they didn't get their first baserunner against Dan Haren -- 10.03 ERA in his past five starts -- until Conger smacked an opposite-field single with one out in the sixth and the Angels down by two.
The next batter, pinch-hitter David Freese, lined a single to Puig in center, and Conger had third base in his sights.
"By the time I hit second, I was like, 'All right, I got this,'" Conger said. "I was running through the bag, running hard. I mean, he's got a cannon. Showed it off tonight."
Conger was going on the pitch. He had the play in front of him, there was only one out and the Angels were having a hard time getting anything going offensively, all factors that made this a zero-risk play in the mind of the Angels' heavy-footed catcher.
Only a perfect throw would get him, and Puig -- embarrassed two nights earlier when Pujols tagged up from first base on a lazy fly ball -- delivered it on one bounce.
"That was huge," Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly said.
"Puig put the throw right on the corner of the bag," Angels manager Mike Scioscia added. "We're going to stay aggressive; he just made a good play on it."
Haren hit 90 mph three times and never topped it, but he located at near-perfection, effectively used his patented splitter-cutter mix and kept his former teammates off balance through 7 1/3 innings, making Matt Shoemaker's rough second inning stand up.
Matt Kemp homered for the sixth time in nine games (a solo shot), Andre Ethier notched his first hit since July 22 (an RBI double) and Shoemaker needed 52 pitches to record the game's first six outs, making his six-inning outing all the more impressive.
"Stuff was OK," Shoemaker said. "I just went out and battled."
Haren called the Angels "probably the best lineup I've seen this year," but they showed it only in short spurts.
Erick Aybar led off the eighth with a bunt single, C.J. Cron lined a base hit to left immediately after Haren departed and Chris Iannetta finally got the Angels on the board with a sacrifice fly.
Jansen started the ninth by giving up a single to Kole Calhoun, falling behind 3-0 against Trout and surrendering a stolen base. Then came back-to-back 96-mph cutters that went right through Trout's swinging bat. Then came the 97-mph cutter that prompted Pujols' flyout to center. Then came the high, 2-2, 96-mph cutter that Hamilton whiffed.
And that was it.
The Angels had lost for the second time in the first three contests of this four-game Freeway Series. Eight of their nine second-half losses have been by two runs or less and five of them -- including the last two -- have ended in one-run, nail-biting defeats.
"It's good baseball," Calhoun said. "There's been some great pitching performances. We've been hanging right in there, swinging the bats well. It's going to happen down the stretch. But we have to win these close ones."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.