The natural instinct for a pitcher on a grounder up the middle is to lunge for the ball with your glove, stop it with your foot, do anything to knock it down. Angels reliever Kevin Jepsen fought that urge in the seventh inning Tuesday night, and it led to a game-saving double play in an 8-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

With the Angels leading, 7-6, Jepsen allowed a double to Danny Santana and walked Brian Dozier to open the seventh. Joe Mauer followed with a firm grounder to the left of Jepsen, who pulled his glove back and let the ball go by.

“In the past, I’ve gone after stuff, and as soon as you nick it, you look back and Howie or [shortstop Erick] Aybar are sitting right there waiting for it,” Jepsen said. “So I told myself, ‘If I have time to decide whether to catch it or not, let it go,’ because that means it’s not hit hard enough to get through the infield.”

Jepsen was right. Second baseman Howie Kendrick made a back-handed grab of the ball, stepped on the bag, leaped into the air and fired to first to complete a double play.

Josh Willingham walked, but Jepsen struck out Kendrys Morales to end the inning. Ernesto Frieri threw a one-two-three eighth, and Joe Smith added a scoreless ninth to help the Angels win for the fifth time in six games and cut Oakland’s American League West lead to four games.

“Jepsen made great pitch, and you have to give him credit for letting the ball go through,” said center fielder Mike Trout, who hit a two-run homer in the second. “He could have easily stopped it, and maybe we don’t turn the double play. What an athletic play by Howie. That was the biggest play of the game.”

Said Manager Mike Scioscia: “Howie made a terrific play. That was not an easy play, and he made it look easy.”