Angels’ Sean O’Sullivan is up to the challenge
A year ago, Sean O’Sullivan was pitching for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, the Angels’ California League affiliate whose biggest rival was the Dodgers’ Inland Empire club.
“Every time we played those guys,” O’Sullivan said, “we stepped it up a bit.”
Monday night, the 21-year-old right-hander found himself in another rivalry, this one on a far bigger stage, under brighter lights, and with much bigger stakes, and he responded just as he did in the minor leagues: He stepped it up a bit.
Making only his third big league start, O’Sullivan gave up two runs and six hits in six innings to help the Angels defeat the Texas Rangers, 5-2, at the Ballpark in Arlington in the first of six games in 10 days between the American League West rivals.
Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales each hit home runs during a four-run sixth inning, as the Angels extended their winning streak to six games, won for the 13th time in 16 games and moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the Rangers in the division.
“If you asked me at the beginning of this year if I’d be here, I would have said no way,” said O’Sullivan, who started 2009 at double-A Arkansas and moved to triple-A Salt Lake in late April. “A door opened, and I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity.”
O’Sullivan, who is 2-0 with a 3.00 earned-run average, showed poise you don’t expect from a player of his age and experience.
He escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam by striking out Julio Borbon to end the first inning, and after giving up consecutive home runs to David Murphy and Marlon Byrd in the third, gave up only one hit and a walk over the next three innings.
O’Sullivan also got out of a two-on, none-out jam in the fifth inning by retiring the same hitters who burned him in the third, Murphy on a popup to second base and Byrd on a double-play grounder to third base.
Most 21-year-olds would be rattled after giving up consecutive home runs and putting their team in a 2-0 hole.
“He was [mad],” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He wasn’t happy with the pitches. You could see him get a little more focused. . . . He’s a confident young pitcher. Even though he’s 21, his makeup is well beyond that. He expects to win.”
The Angels rallied with a run in the fourth and four in the sixth, with Vladimir Guerrero, Rivera and Morales doing much of the damage.
Guerrero and Rivera singled with two out in the fourth, and Morales hit a run-scoring double to right field against starter Vicente Padilla.
Guerrero singled to lead off the sixth, and Rivera drove a two-run home run to center field, his 13th, to put the Angels ahead, 3-2. Morales followed with his 13th home run, another shot to center field, to make it 4-2.
Maicer Izturis and Mike Napoli each singled, knocking out Padilla, and after Erick Aybar’s sacrifice bunt, Chone Figgins hit a sacrifice fly against Jason Jennings for a 5-2 lead.
Darren Oliver pitched a scoreless seventh, and Justin Speier retired the first two batters in the eighth when things got interesting -- too interesting -- for the Angels.
Byrd singled and Aybar bobbled Nelson Cruz’s grounder to shortstop for an error. Left-handed slugger Hank Blalock hit for Borbon, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch.
Left-handers had been batting .318 against Speier, and first base was open, but Scioscia told Speier to pitch to Blalock, who grounded out to shortstop, ending the inning. Brian Fuentes threw a scoreless ninth for his major league-leading 22nd save.
With Scot Shields out for the year after undergoing knee surgery and struggling right-hander Jose Arredondo demoted to triple A, Speier, who was 2-8 with a 5.03 ERA in 2008, has filled the setup void.
The veteran right-hander is 3-1 with a 4.03 ERA in 27 games and has given up three earned runs and 12 hits in 18 innings of his last 19 appearances since May 15, an ERA of 1.50.
“There’s more life on his fastball than he had at any time last year,” Scioscia said. “He’s making pitches, and it’s given him a boost.”