ARLINGTON -- Neal Cotts' ninth-inning fastball sailed in and Kole Calhoun couldn't get out of the way in time. It grazed his right elbow, clear enough for home-plate umpire Chris Guccione to signal a hit by pitch, award first base to the Angels right fielder and deny him yet another cycle at Globe Life Park.
"I would've liked that at-bat," Calhoun said after falling a triple shy, but doing everything else to fuel the Angels' 5-4 victory over the Rangers.
The scrappy leadoff hitter singled in the first, doubled in the second and blasted a go-ahead three-run homer in the fifth, backing yet another effective start from Garrett Richards as the Angels beat the last-place Rangers for the eighth straight time, moving one game back of the first-place A's in the American League West.
The A's have dropped five of their last six games, allowing the Angels -- who play in Oakland next weekend -- to shed three off their deficit over the last three days.
"It's the natural ebbs and flows of a season," Chris Iannetta said. "It's going to keep happening. Hopefully we tread water, hang in there right down the stretch and we get hot at the end and are able to find ourselves in the playoffs."
The Angels offense has been in a downward spiral lately, particularly the middle of the order. No. 2 hitter Mike Trout has one hit and six strikeouts in his last 14 at-bats. No. 3 hitter Albert Pujols is 2-for-12 in his last four games. No. 4 hitter Josh Hamilton is in the midst of a maddening, troublesome 5-for-38 rut that has seen him strike out 16 times (including four on Friday).
And that's why Calhoun is so important.
The 26-year-old left-handed hitter has five multi-hit games in his last six contests, has hit safely in six consecutive games, has homered in two of his last three, and now has a .294/.348/.489 slash line on the season.
"He kind of flies under the radar," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but I don't know if there are too many leadoff men as dynamic as Kole is."
Calhoun's last triple came at Globe Life Park on July 10, a game that saw him finish a home run shy of the cycle. A triple shy on Friday, he grounded into a 3-6 double play in the seventh, though it plated what ended up being a crucial fifth run, then was begrudgingly hit by a pitch in the ninth.
"I don't know what it is, man," Calhoun said of Arlington bringing out near-cycles. "It was just the beginning of a road trip. We wanted to get out and get on the winning side of things. It was nice to be able to help the team tonight."
Richards pitched 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball, the last of those runs coming when he was out of the game. He slightly dropped his ERA to 2.53 in his breakout season.
The 26-year-old right-hander gave up seven hits, marking only the seventh time in 25 starts that he's given up more than five, but walked none and struck out seven. Richards gave up an RBI single to Adrian Beltre in the first, then blanked the Rangers through the next six innings and exited with 106 pitches upon surrendering a one-out single to Shin-Soo Choo in the eighth.
Texas (47-75) followed with three straight singles off Kevin Jepsen and made it a one-run game on a botched double play, but Joe Smith got out of the eighth with a fielder's choice groundout and Huston Street recorded a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 32nd save.
With that, Richards got his 13th win.
"He's tough," Beltre said. "His fastball is everywhere and his breaking ball is sharp. I think we have faced him four times this season and he has been the same all four times. He's tough."
Richards -- 5-1 in 10 career starts against the Rangers -- normally relies on his four-seam fastball, his cutter and his slider.
But the curveball, a pitch Iannetta called "hit and miss," felt good coming out of his hand in warmups, and Richards went to it nine times in the opener of a 10-game road trip, and recorded two of his strikeouts on it.
"Pitching's a day-to-day thing," Richards said. "I was dealt these cards today, and I went out and tried to win with them."
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.