Ernesto Frieri felt as though John Jaso was late on his fastball, so with a 1-and-2 count and a runner aboard in the top of the ninth inning Monday night, the Angels closer, on to protect a one-run lead, tried to throw a two-seam fastball down and away to the left-handed hitter.
Instead, the pitch was up and in, and for Angels fans who have followed Jaso during his five-year career with Tampa Bay, Seattle and now Oakland, they could almost predict what happened next.
Jaso crushed a pinch-hit, two-run homer well beyond the high wall in right-center field to lift the Athletics to a 3-2 victory in Angel Stadium and spoil a night in which Angels left-hander Hector Santiago threw seven superb one-run, five-hit innings and Albert Pujols hit his 496th home run and a run-scoring single.
“Don’t get me wrong — he put a good swing on it — but it was a mistake pitch,” said Frieri, who blew his first save of the season in only his second opportunity. “I was trying to go down and away, and it came up and in to his hot spot. I knew right away by the sound that he put a good swing on it.”
Jaso seems to do that all the time against the Angels. The catcher has a career .331 average (39 for 118) with six homers and 25 runs batted in against them overall and is a .424 hitter (28 for 66) with six homers and 22 RBIs in Angel Stadium.
Frieri getting beat with his fastball — even one that travels at 95 mph with good movement — also seems to be a recurring theme.
The right-hander spent all spring refining his slider and changeup, and after using the slider to record a key strikeout of Corey Hart while nailing down Wednesday night’s 2-0 win in Seattle, he said he was gaining confidence in the pitch.
“All the hitters pretty much cheated on me last year — they knew the fastball was coming,” Frieri said. “It’s time for me to start pitching, moving hitters’ feet, using my secondary pitches. I trust them a lot now.”
Frieri said he threw two good sliders in the ninth inning Monday night, but the A’s did not swing at either. After Josh Donaldson opened the inning with a single to center and Yoenis Cespedes flied out to center, Frieri pumped fastballs into Jaso.
“I pitch with my best stuff, and my best stuff tonight was my fastball,” Frieri said. “This is the game, this is what happens sometimes. The fastball was coming out good, but sometimes you feel good and you get hurt.”
Santiago, who was both a starter and a reliever for the Chicago White Sox before being traded to the Angels in December, could empathize with Frieri.
“I closed in 2012 and know how it is,” he said. “You have to have a short memory. He said he was sorry after the game, and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ We’re all battling, we’re all in this together. We’ve got to pick him up.”
Santiago said the mood in the Angels’ clubhouse afterward was relatively upbeat.
“That was definitely a game-changer right there,” Santiago said of Jaso’s homer. “But that’s the kind of game that can make us stronger too. No one was really down about it. Obviously, it’s a tough loss, but we took a positive out of it. Guys were saying, ‘Let’s put our foot down tomorrow and score 10 runs.”
Pujols nearly willed his team to victory, hitting an RBI single to center in the first and sending a laser of a solo shot over the center-field wall for career homer No. 496 in the third. With four more blasts, Pujols, 34, will become only the 26th player in baseball history to hit 500 homers.
But after racking up 25 runs and 37 hits, including 10 homers, in a three-game weekend series against the New York Mets, the Angels managed only five hits Monday night against three A’s pitchers, including starter Jesse Chavez, who allowed two runs — one earned — and four hits in seven innings, striking out nine and walking none.
Raul Ibanez, David Freese and Howie Kendrick, the Angels’ fourth, fifth and sixth hitters, combined to go 0 for 12 with five strikeouts, and there was more frustration in the bottom of the ninth for the Angels when a close play at first base was upheld by instant replay.
Oakland second baseman Nick Punto bobbled Howie Kendrick’s grounder and threw to first. Umpire Chris Segal ruled Kendrick out, and even in super slow-motion, the play looked extremely close. After a review, the call was upheld.
“From the replay I saw, the angle, he’s clearly safe,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “I don’t know if they’re getting different angles or what’s happening, but it’s an unfortunate thing of this process right now, and it’s frustrating.”