Angels third baseman David Freese had a flashback to October 2011 on Tuesday night, and it had nothing to do with the two-run home run he hit in the fourth inning of a 2-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.
Freese had a monster postseason for St. Louis in 2011, winning most valuable player honors in the National League Championship Series and the World Series, but what sent him down memory lane was Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson, the former Texas Rangers ace who pitched against the Cardinals in the 2011 World Series.
Wilson on Tuesday threw one of his best games in his three-plus seasons with the Angels, needing only 96 pitches -- 63 of them were strikes -- to blank the Mariners on two hits, striking out two, walking one and throwing first-pitch strikes to 19 of 27 batters.
It was the 20th career start of at least eight innings for the normally pitch-inefficient Wilson, but only the first in which he’s thrown under 100 pitches.
"What I saw tonight was the guy I saw in October of 2011," Freese said. "That's the only time I’ve been able to see him in person, then, and last year. Standing behind him, watching him tonight, what he did was special. Every pitch, he reared back and let it fire. He threw a lot of strikes and pounded the zone."
The defense appreciated Wilson’s approach, as did those in Major League Baseball monitoring pace-of-game issues. Shortstop Erick Aybar made two superb plays, and the game took only 2 hours, 13 minutes to complete.
"He was working quick, getting on the mound, nodding and going to work," Freese said. "We love it when guys are pounding the zone. The defense stays on its toes."
Wilson, slowed by illness and injury, went 13-10 with a 4.51 earned run average last season, his worst as a starter, and he averaged 17.7 pitches an inning, third-most in the major leagues. He averaged 12 pitches an inning Tuesday night and retired the last 17 batters he faced.
“Pitching efficiently, getting ahead in the count, I felt like I was able to get in a groove there with my mechanics,” Wilson said. “I put the ball where I wanted to most of the time ... but I still missed a lot of spots. I wasn’t as accurate as I wanted to be.
“I threw some balls that were seriously uncompetitive and way out of the strike zone. It was weird. I’d either be right on the money or way out of the strike zone.”
Manager Mike Scioscia called Wilson’s performance a “masterpiece,” citing his overall command and first-pitch strike ratio. But it wasn’t just the fact that Wilson threw so many first-pitch strikes; it was the quality of those pitches.
“We’re not saying to just throw ball down the middle on the first pitch,” Scioscia said. “There’s a fine line between making a pitch and throwing the ball down the heart of the plate and guys getting good swings off him. The basic statistical data of pitching 0-1 or 1-0, pitching 1-2 or 2-1, applies to everyone.
“C.J. is sensitive to that. He needs to pitch along the lines of what he did tonight, get in the zone, make pitches, get contact on your own terms ... that was a really good game tonight.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna