Although Max Scherzer did his best to put the Detroit Tigers back on top of the AL Central, their latest chance to pull even with Chicago escaped right along with Alberto Callaspo's game-ending single to left.
Callaspo drove home pinch-runner Peter Bourjos with a two-out single in the ninth inning, and the Los Angeles Angels beat Detroit 3-2 Friday night for their ninth win in 10 games.
Prince Fielder and Alex Avila homered as Detroit (73-64) couldn't cash in on a chance to catch the White Sox (74-63), who lost 7-5 to Kansas City. The Tigers also opened their 10-game trip by losing ground on the Angels and Tampa Bay in the wild-card race, but they couldn't feel too down about narrowly dropping a thriller to the surging Angels, who have won 13 of 16.
"We had an opportunity, and it was a terrific major league baseball game, well played by everybody," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "We had our shot. That's all you can ask for. ... We've got to go win games, simple as that. You're not going to back into anything."
Scherzer pitched eight dominant innings of five-hit ball while taking over the major league lead with nine more strikeouts for the Tigers, but Ervin Santana matched him with 6 2-3 innings of four-hit ball and 10 strikeouts for the Angels. Detroit couldn't do much against four relievers, setting up Callaspo's heroics.
"Scherzer is tough," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's been tough on us all year, but Ervin matched him pitch for pitch. It took a couple of relievers to do it, too, and in the ninth, we got the big hit."
Kendrys Morales had a triple, a double and a one-out single that started the ninth-inning rally for the Angels, who moved just two games behind Baltimore in the AL wild-card race.
Erick Aybar beat out a slow two-out grounder against Octavio Dotel (5-3), advancing Bourjos to second. Callaspo then pinch-hit for slumping All-Star Mark Trumbo and drove a rolling grounder past diving Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta into left field, scoring the speedy Bourjos.
"We're just playing together, trying to do all the little things," Callaspo said. "We'll keep playing together and see what happens in the end."
Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick drove in first-inning runs for the Angels (75-63), who moved a season-high 12 games over .500. They also closed the gap on the Orioles (77-61) for the second wild-card spot, with Tampa Bay (76-62) in between and Oakland (77-60) just a half-game in front of Baltimore.
Ernesto Frieri (3-0) pitched the ninth for the Angels, striking out Avila to strand speedy pinch-runner Quintin Berry on second.
Scherzer was outstanding yet again for the Tigers, allowing just two hits over seven consecutive scoreless innings without a walk after Los Angeles scored twice in the first. He racked up his 10th consecutive start with at least eight strikeouts and retired the final seven batters he faced, taking over the majors' strikeouts lead with 213 to 209 for teammate Justin Verlander, who faces Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Scherzer is unbeaten since July 30, although his five-start winning streak ended.
"I was commanding the strike zone, and that's when I usually have success," said Scherzer, who matched his longest start of the season. "Minus the first inning, I pitched pretty well. ... That's a great ballclub over there. They're good hitters, so credit to them for putting together some good at-bats."
Santana stepped in for ace Jered Weaver with another superb start in his late-season surge. Santana has been outstanding over his last eight starts, but still leads the majors with 34 homers allowed after giving up two more to the Tigers.
The Angels stuck to their recent theme of early runs against Scherzer. Mike Trout hit a leadoff double and scored on Hunter's single, and Albert Pujols scored moments later on Morales' double and Kendrick's RBI groundout.
Fielder answered in the second inning with his 25th homer into the right-field corner, and Avila evened it with another shot to right in the third. Santana passed the Yankees' Phil Hughes for the major league lead in homers allowed.
Scherzer struck out five straight Angels starting in the second inning, and he took the strikeouts lead in the sixth by throwing 99-mph fastball past Pujols, whose 14-game hitting streak ended with an 0-for-4 performance.
Scherzer retired 16 of 17 Angels until Morales' two-out triple off the center-field wall in the sixth, but stranded him by striking out Kendrick.
NOTES: Detroit's Ryan Raburn grounded out to the mound on the first pitch he saw as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning in his first game back from sprained right thumb. Raburn hadn't played for the Tigers since July 31. ... Morales' triple was his first since June 2009, and just the fourth of his career. The Cuban slugger missed most of the past two seasons with a leg injury.