It was like a conga line from the Angels bullpen to the mound Saturday night. One by one, pitchers trotted into the game, beginning with reliever-turned-starter Cory Rasmus and ending with closer Huston Street.
By the time the Angels completed a 2-0 victory over Oakland, which extended their American League West lead over the Athletics to four games and Oakland's consecutive scoreless innings streak to 22, the Angels had used eight pitchers in a nine-inning game. It was the third eight-pitcher shutout in major league history.
“Is that all we used, eight?” Manager Mike Scioscia said, jokingly. “You know, it wasn't quite mapped out like that, but the way the little twists and turns of the game took us, and especially getting the lead, we were lined up to use a lot of pitchers and go to our bullpen earlier.”
The Angels knew they wouldn't get much length from Rasmus, who hadn't started a game since May 2011, when he was pitching at Class-A Lynchburg, and had not thrown more than 51 pitches in any of his big league relief outings.
But the 26-year-old right-hander, starting in the spot vacated by injured right-hander Garrett Richards, gave them three superb innings, giving up one hit and striking out six, including five in a row.
“We've seen him come out of the bullpen and throw two or three innings, put up two or three zeros, so many times, so it wasn't a surprise to see him make pitches,” Street said of Rasmus. “But the way he did it, striking out the side in the second, it really did set a tone.”
Left-hander Michael Roth, called up from double-A Arkansas on Saturday, replaced Rasmus to start the fourth inning, and the A's loaded the bases with one out on a walk, a throwing error by catcher Hank Conger and an intentional walk to Derek Norris.
But Yoslan Herrera, a hard-throwing right-hander who was called up from triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday, got pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes to bounce into an inning-ending double play, second baseman Howie Kendrick fielding the grounder, stepping on the bag and throwing to first base.
Fernando Salas retired the side in order in the fifth inning, and Jason Grilli threw a one-two-three sixth. Kevin Jepsen and Joe Smith retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth innings.
Street, pitching four days in a row for the first time since July 2010, gave up a leadoff single to Sam Fuld, who stole second and third. But the right-hander got Stephen Vogt to fly to left field, Josh Donaldson to ground out to third base, and struck out Brandon Moss on three pitches for his 11th save with the Angels.
The Angels have won the first three games of a crucial four-game series against the A's, and improved 14-4 in their last 18 games to move from four games behind Oakland to four games ahead. A vastly improved bullpen has keyed the club's surge.
“As this season has progressed, our bullpen has evolved from, I think, a question mark to an exclamation point,” Scioscia said. “As we've acquired Huston Street and Jason Grilli, you've seen that depth mount to where we can bring in good arms that can shorten games and will be fresh on a given day to hold leads.”
There was some question as to whether Street would be fresh enough to pitch.
“But after he threw off flat ground, he was adamant that he felt great, even better today than he did the last couple days,” Scioscia said. “We were very comfortable with that decision.”
Said Street: “They gave me the choice. With the off day Monday, I felt like it was the time to push it.”
Asked if he's usually honest when coaches ask if he's OK to pitch, Street said, “Never. Players want to play. You respect the fact they ask you and trust you, but it's always hard to pull yourself out of that game.”