It was the eighth inning of a five-run game, and C.J. Cron wanted nothing more in the world than to clobber a homer. Mike Trout had promised Cron season tickets to his hometown Phoenix Suns if the Angels first baseman could hit two home runs Tuesday at Angel Stadium.
Cron knocked out one in the first inning. In his next at-bat, he swung for the fences and flied out. After patiently working a walk, his last chance approached. The count progressed to 1-and-2, and Cron saw a cutter he liked. He swung viciously and fouled it off. Resolute, he found a fastball at the bottom of the zone and unloaded to straightaway center field, supplying the final run in the Angels’ 8-2 victory over Oakland.
By the time the lumbering 27-year-old rounded third base, he could not contain his glee. He smiled all the way home while Kole Calhoun clapped his hands in the Angels’ dugout. He too lives in Phoenix and will probably be seeing some basketball on Trout’s dime.
“I’ll try to get them on the floor or something,” Cron said. “I think I just won a couple thousand bucks there. And I’ll be going to all the games. Pretty cool.”
The price for a pair of tickets to all 41 games at Talking Stick Resort Arena starts around $2,000. Cron thought the conversation started because he had not homered in 11 days. Trout, poking fun, offered to purchase him season tickets to the Arizona Cardinals if he could do so twice Tuesday.
Cron bargained by asking for the Suns. They are not expected to contend next season, but they play far more home games, and almost all of them while Cron will be in Phoenix in the offseason and during spring training.
The feat capped an encouraging night for the Angels. At August’s start, they told their struggling starting pitcher Jesse Chavez he had to move to the bullpen. The veteran right-hander then owned a 5.43 earned-run average, and the team hadn’t won one of his starts since the summer solstice.
After another scoreless stint Tuesday, Chavez will finish the month with a 0.60 ERA in seven relief appearances. In 15 innings, he has struck out 20 men and walked just two. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Chavez would remain in the bullpen. He attributed the success to Chavez’s improved breaking ball and wasn’t sure why it coincided just right with the change.
“What came first, the chicken or egg?” Scioscia asked. “I don’t know.”
Chavez said more frequent work afforded him more opportunities to fine-tune his delivery. His presence in the bullpen allowed Scioscia to pull wild rookie starter Troy Scribner in a precarious third-inning situation Tuesday, the bases loaded and two outs for the left-handed Matt Joyce. In jogged the Angels’ lone left-hander, Jose Alvarez, who retired Joyce. When Alvarez encountered trouble in the fourth, Scioscia called in Chavez, and he rode him until there were two outs in the eighth.
The Angels jumped ahead before they made an out, as Cameron Maybin doubled and Ben Revere singled against Athletics right-hander Chris Smith, a 36-year-old who had never started a major league game until this year. After two walks, a groundout and a sacrifice fly, Cron slammed a three-run home run to left-center.
Like that, the Angels had a five-run lead, as many runs as they’ve scored in the first inning all season. They scored twice more in the fourth, on a massive Martin Maldonado solo shot and a subsequent rally.
In thrashing the lowly Athletics, the Angels kept pace with Minnesota, the team they’re chasing for the second American League wild-card slot. The Angels remain one game behind with 29 more to play.
“Every game’s super-important,” Cron said. “You can tell with the way Scioscia handled the pitching staff.”
Trout again out
Trout missed a second start because of a stiff neck but expressed hope he would be fit to start Wednesday’s series finale against Oakland. Earlier Tuesday, Trout announced that he had donated $27,000 to the Red Cross to aid relief efforts in areas of Texas and Louisiana rampaged by Tropical Storm Harvey. He wears No. 27. … Injured Angels reliever Huston Street also donated $30,000 to relief efforts. By publicizing the charitable effort, he hoped to raise $250,000. … The Angels recalled outfielder Eric Young Jr. from triple-A Salt Lake and placed right-hander Bud Norris on the 10-day disabled list with what Scioscia described as a recurrence of the right knee soreness that has nagged him this season.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura