Facing their first tense situation in their sixth game together, Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons and second baseman Nick Franklin huddled in the middle of the Angel Stadium infield to discuss what they would do with a grounder hit their way in Sunday’s ninth inning.
While pitching coach Charles Nagy visited the mound, the Tampa Bay Ray representing the tying run waited at third base. With one out, the go-ahead run stood at second, a superfluous runner at first.
Simmons, an elite defender, and Franklin, less so, settled on a decision. If a ball came slowly, they’d take the out at first base. Fast, and they’d throw home. The possibility of a double play went unmentioned.
The first pitch to Tim Beckham from closer Bud Norris was a cutter cradling the outside corner of the strike zone. Beckham swung and tapped it to shortstop, not too hard, not too slow. Simmons elected to freelance, scooping it and shoveling it to second. Franklin unleashed his best throw to first base and it beat Beckham by a half-step.
Norris clapped his hands and pointed to the sky, Simmons drop-kicked his glove, and Franklin excitedly shouted. The tying run had touched home, but no matter: The double play meant the Angels had secured a 4-3 victory and saved themselves from falling five games out of an increasingly taut American League wild-card race.
“I knew we’d get it,” first baseman C.J. Cron said. “Simmons makes every play.”
An inning earlier, Cron clubbed the Angels’ first pinch-hit homer in 13 months to push them ahead. Relegated to a reserve role, he had batted only four times in 10 days since his most recent callup, but he swung at the first pitch when he stepped up against left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek.
Cron sent an over-the-middle fastball into the first row of the right-field seats, just enough distance for a two-run home run.
“I wanted to be aggressive, because that’s the kind of hitter I am,” he said. “I’m a big dude. That’s kind of why I’m here, to put a charge into a ball.”
Staked to a two-run lead, Norris struck out Corey Dickerson on three pitches to begin the ninth. Then the next three Rays recorded hits and produced a run. The fourth, Brad Miller, worked a walk to load the bases with one out, before the game-ending double play.
Early, the Angels extended their streak of hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position from 15 to 20. It snapped only when Albert Pujols punched a hanging 1-and-2 slider from starter Chris Archer into right field for a run-scoring single in the fifth. Martin Maldonado squeezed home another run in the sixth.
Rookie right-hander Parker Bridwell made it back to the big leagues after a procedural demotion to triple A amid the All-Star break. Taking care to remain hydrated for his Sunday start, he had kept water with him all weekend, drinking as much as he could stomach.
Just before he scaled the dugout steps and took the mound for his second inning, he chugged a 16.9-ounce bottle. Soon, he felt the uncontrollable urge to burp.
Soon after that, he realized it wasn’t a burp he required. He vomited “pure water” four or five times while Beckham batted, prompting a visit from Nagy, athletic trainer Adam Nevala and manager Mike Scioscia. He assured them he was fine.
“I got on the rubber, took the sign, stepped off, and threw up,” Bridwell said. “I just drank it way too fast. I got water logged.”
Bridwell held the Rays without a run through six innings. He stayed in for the seventh, only to surrender a quick two-run homer and hefty bat flip to Logan Morrison. Two batters later, his day was done. He still struck out eight and walked just one in his 6 1/3 innings, sealing his spot in the Angels’ rocky rotation.