The Angels had the ideal hitter at the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning Saturday night when Howie Kendrick stepped in against Texas Rangers reliever Jason Frasor with the speedy Josh Hamilton at first base and no outs in a tie game.
“It was a good spot for him,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said of Kendrick. “He’s multi-dimensional. He can certainly get a bunt down. You can hit-and-run with him -- he’s going to put the ball in play -- and he can drive the ball.”
Kendrick tried to do all three, fouling off a first-pitch bunt attempt, fouling off a hit-and-run attempt on a difficult 1-and-1 pitch and, with Hamilton running on a full-count pitch, lining a double to left-center field to score Hamilton for a 3-2 walk-off victory at Angel Stadium.
“There was a bunt, a hit-and-run; I think that’s about all the signs except for a stolen base,” Kendrick said. “I put a good swing on the full-count pitch. They were playing me to hit to the opposite field, and there was a big gap in left-center. I guess I hit it in the right spot.”
The toughest pitch of the at-bat was probably the low-and-away fastball that Kendrick lunged at and fouled off, barely getting his bat on the ball.
“That definitely was not a pitch I could drive,” Kendrick said. “But your main goal is to protect the runner. I just wanted to get the bat on it. Whether it went fair or foul, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to give away an out there.”
It was the fifth career walk-off hit for Kendrick, a nine-year veteran who is learning to relish those situations when the game is on the line.
“They’re getting more and more fun,” Kendrick said. “The younger you are, the more pressure you put on yourself. Then, the more experienced you get, you just try to have a good at-bat and let it happen.”
The Angels tied the game, 1-1, in the sixth when Hank Conger broke up Nick Martinez’s perfect game with a a leadoff double to left, took third on a groundout and scored on Efren Navarro’s groundout. They took a 2-1 lead on C.J. Cron’s leadoff homer in the eighth.
With Joe Smith unavailable because of a stiff neck, Scioscia summoned Kevin Jepsen in the ninth, but the right-hander gave up a leadoff homer to Shin-Soo Choo, the 12th blown save of the season for the Angels’ much-maligned bullpen.
But Mike Morin threw a scoreless top of the 10th for the Angels, and Hamilton sparked the winning rally in the bottom of the 10th by lining a single off the glove of left-hander Neal Cotts for an infield single. Twenty of the Angels’ 40 victories have come in comeback fashion.
“That’s what’s great about this clubhouse,” said ace Jered Weaver, who gave up one run and four hits in eight innings, striking out five and walking two. “You can feel everyone battling, trying to pick each other up, and we haven’t had that feeling here for a long time.”