Angels' C.J. Wilson smells victory after boost from ammonia inhalant

Angels' C.J. Wilson smells victory after boost from ammonia inhalant
Angels starter C.J. Wilson gave up just two hits in seven innings Saturday night against Oakland. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

C.J. Wilson had completed five scoreless, two-hit innings Saturday night, but the combination of a minor sinus infection and the emotional toll of protecting a one-run lead left the Angels left-hander feeling a little drained.

In need of a pick-me-up, Wilson snapped an ammonia inhalant stick in half and “took a hit of it to wake me up a bit,” Wilson said after pitching the Angels to a 1-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics in Angel Stadium. “That kind of got me jazzed up. I got a little more aggressive in the sixth and seventh innings.”

Ammonia? Wilson said the inhalants, commonly referred to as smelling salts, are not on baseball’s banned-substance list and that he began using them when, as a Texas Rangers reliever from 2005-2009, he tried to pattern himself after his “hero,” former closer Eric Gagne.

"It's totally legal," said Wilson, who allowed two hits in seven innings, striking out eight and walking three to improve to 4-5 with a 3.60 earned-run average. "When I was a reliever, that was part of Eric Gagne's routine. He'd snap one of those ammonia sticks and he'd be like, "Whoa, baby!"


"He'd slam a Red Bull, then do [an ammonia stick] and he'd be amped to go out there. I have a little sinus thing. I needed something to unclog. I thought some ammonia would get me out of my stupor, and it did."

Wilson struck out the first two batters of the sixth, Billy Burns and Mark Canha. He then made a bare-hand grab of Ben Zobrist’s one-hop shot up the middle and threw to first for the out.

Wilson got into a jam in the seventh when he walked Billy Butler with one out, Josh Phegley reached on a fielder’s-choice grounder and shortstop Erick Aybar committed an error to put runners on first and second.

But first baseman Efren Navarro made a lunging, back-hand grab of Stephen Vogt’s liner and threw to second to double off Phegley to end the inning and preserve a 1-0 lead.

“He’s so smooth, he’s such a great fielder, I feel like he’s going to catch everything,” Wilson said of Navarro, who was filling in for Albert Pujols. “He makes it look so easy over there because he’s so prepared. ... The throw was the big part of that play, because I would have had to make another series of pitches with guys on base if he wasn’t accurate with that throw.”

Pujols, who started at designated hitter, hit a solo home run to left field in the first, and relievers Joe Smith (scoreless eighth) and closer Huston Street (scoreless ninth for his 19th save) closed out the game to extend the Angels’ win streak to three.

Wilson rebounded from a rough five-start stretch in which he went 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA, but he didn't necessarily gain any extra satisfaction from getting through -- and winning -- a game in which he had no margin for error.

"It's draining," Wilson said. "The fun games are when you have a six-run lead and you cruise through it and they roll over everything and don't get a lot of hits. That's way more fun. This is not very fun. It's a lot of work. This is one of the harder games I've had to work through because I had to make so many pitches with the game on line.

"With a 1-0 lead, you can't make any mistakes. I was determined to pitch tough no matter what the count was and to try to get an out on every pitch, to make pitches on the fringes and not throw meatballs with guys on base."