Garrett Richards' pitch count stood at 104 through eight scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night, the Angels right-hander's second career shutout and third complete game well within reach.
But Huston Street's 300th career save was also there for the taking, and with a three-run lead and the Angels closer warming, Manager Mike Scioscia had a difficult decision for the ninth: Stick with Richards or give Street a shot at history.
“It was close,” Scioscia said. “Garrett was maintaining his stuff. He felt strong. The way he was feeling, it was worth a shot.”
Richards had one advantage over Street. He was in the dugout and had Scioscia's ear. Street was in the bullpen and couldn't plead his case. How much did Richards insist he take the mound for the ninth?
“As much as I could without being disrespectful,” Richards said. “I pride myself on being able to finish as well as I start. I wanted that ball.”
Scioscia gave him that ball, and Richards rewarded the decision, retiring the side in order in the ninth to complete a two-hit shutout that led the Angels to a 3-0 victory in Angel Stadium.
Richards, who improved to 10-6 with a 3.24 earned-run average, struck out six and walked one, and of his 113 pitches, 79 were strikes. He retired the last 15 batters of the game, mixing his sharp-breaking curves and sliders with an explosive fastball that was still hitting 95 mph in the ninth.
Combined with the bat of Kole Calhoun, who hit solo home runs in the third and fifth innings, Richards helped the Angels (50-40) win for the 13th time in 16 games and push their lead over the Houston Astros in the American League West to 11/2 games.
It was Richards' first shutout since Aug. 4, 2014, in Dodger Stadium, and it handed the Red Sox back-to-back shutouts for the first time since Aug. 7-8, 2009, against the New York Yankees.
“That's about as strong as we've seen him,” Scioscia said of Richards. “They're a lineup that will hurt you if you don't hit your spots. He threw a terrific game. Our pitching staff is one of the best-kept secrets in the game.”
Indeed, the Angels lead the AL with 55 quality starts, and their rotation, which has a 3.59 ERA for the season, has given up two earned runs or fewer in 15 of 18 games.
Only one runner reached third base against Richards on Saturday night, with Pablo Sandoval doubling to left field to lead off the fifth and advancing on Brock Holt's one-out grounder to second.
But Ryan Hanigan's soft liner caromed off Richards' back and right to second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who threw to first for the inning-ending out. Richards gave up a two-out infield single to Sandoval and walked Alejandro De Aza in the second, but he struck out Holt looking at a curve to snuff out the rally.
A steady rain Saturday afternoon forced the cancellation of batting practice and raised the possibility of the first rainout in Angel Stadium in 20 years.
The skies cleared in time for the 6 p.m. start, and the game was played amid an occasional drizzle, but that hardly put a damper on the evening for the Angels.
They took a 1-0 lead on Red Sox starter Rick Porcello's wild pitch in the second, and then Calhoun went to work, driving a 3-and-1 fastball from Porcello into the right-field seats in the third for his 11th homer and a 2-0 fastball into the same area in the fifth for his 12th homer.
“It was cool,” Calhoun said of his first career multi-homer game. “Anything to help the team win. We needed those runs to get behind Garrett and let him relax and go out and throw one of the best games I've ever seen him throw.”
Left-hander Hector Santiago (6-4, 2.33 ERA) will oppose Boston left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (5-2, 3.59) at Angel Stadium on Sunday at 5 p.m. TV: ESPN; Radio: 830.