The bullpen door at Fenway Park opened and Blake Parker emerged, the bases loaded, his team up three runs and needing one last out in the ninth inning Saturday night.
Until three months ago, Parker was best known as the all-time saves leader for triple-A Iowa, where he spent parts of nine consecutive seasons. He just turned 32, and this is the best season of his life.
Newly shaven since he allowed his first home run of the season in his last outing, Parker first fired a fastball way outside. He inhaled, exhaled, and fired another at the outside edge. Strike. He repeated his actions for strike two. He knew then to throw the splitter, his calling card, the darting pitch that opponents have missed half the time they’ve tried to hit it this year.
The first one was too low. The second, at the bottom of the zone, worked as designed. Pinch-hitter Chris Young struck out swinging, and the Angels secured a dramatic 6-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
“That’s what, I think, relievers live for,” Parker said after recording his first save this season and second of his career. “That moment.”
The Angels (39-39) scored steadily Saturday, keeping folks inside the Green Monster busy, starting right away in the first inning. Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols singled into left. After Andrelton Simmons struck out, Martin Maldonado singled to center to score Calhoun.
In the fourth, Danny Espinosa reached first base on an error, stole second base after escaping a pickoff attempt, and scored on Eric Young Jr.’s double down the right-field line. In the sixth, Simmons doubled, took third on a Maldonado ground out and scored on Luis Valbuena’s sacrifice fly.
The Angels added two more runs in the seventh as Cliff Pennington singled and quickly scored when Cameron Maybin doubled. Maybin stole third and scored when left-hander Fernando Abad balked. Protesting the balk call, Red Sox manager John Farrell became enraged and earned an ejection.
Two innings later, the Angels added a sixth, seemingly superfluous run, on Young’s walk and stolen base and Calhoun’s RBI single.
Angels starter JC Ramirez, reeling from three rough starts in June, permitted four early hard hits, including a Mitch Moreland home run to begin the second inning. Andrew Benintendi shot a single to right and moved up to second when Calhoun could not field it cleanly.
After a strikeout and a hit batter, Ramirez refocused on pounding the bottom of the zone, and began to induce repeated grounders.
“What was really impressive with JC tonight was how he gathered himself,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He minimized damage and got some big outs.”
Ramirez didn’t surrender another ball hit out of the infield until Mookie Betts began the sixth with a double to left. As the Angels’ bullpen began to stir, Ramirez retired Dustin Pedroia on a popup and Xander Bogaerts and Moreland on ground outs. At 95 pitches through six innings, he was finished, his best start of the month recorded.
“It was good to give me the confidence back,” Ramirez said. “I thought this month was gonna be rough for me, so this one, especially in this park, gives me a lot of confidence.”
Right-handers David Hernandez, Keynan Middleton, Cam Bedrosian and Parker split the last three innings. Only Bedrosian permitted a hit or a walk — two of each, plus a wild pitch, which netted Boston two runs and brought Parker into the game.
The Angels have played 18 consecutive games while residing within one game of .500. Tuesday will mark their season’s halfway point, and they have yet to spend one day further than four games from .500.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura