The pent-up frustration of an offense that was bottled up for three weeks was released amid a hail of clutch hits against the most unlikely of bullpens Thursday night, the Angels rallying for six runs in the final two innings of an improbable 7-6 victory over the Kansas City Royals in Kauffman Stadium.
“Oh, we needed it — that was big,” center fielder Mike Trout said after the Angels ended a nine-game road losing streak and won for only the second time in 49 games this season when trailing after eight innings.
“Their bullpen is probably the best in the business. They have guys who throw hard. To score some runs off those guys is big for us; it’s a big momentum shifter for us.”
The Angels averaged 3.3 runs while going 5-14 in their previous 19 games and were coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago White Sox in which they scored four runs and went one for 32 with runners in scoring position.
They trailed, 5-1, entering the eighth Thursday night, and waiting for them in the Royals bullpen was hard-throwing right-hander Wade Davis, who entered with a 7-1 record and 0.59 earned-run average in 47 games, and closer Greg Holland, who had a 3.12 ERA and 25 saves in 28 chances.
But Kole Calhoun singled to lead off the eighth, and Trout, mired in a 10-for-53 slump, turned on a Davis 98-mph fastball and sent a run-scoring double — with an exit speed of 114 mph off the bat — over the head of center fielder Lorenzo Cain. A pair of ground balls to second scored Trout to make it 5-3.
Holland came on in the ninth and faced six batters. He retired none of them. David DeJesus singled, Carlos Perez walked, and both advanced on a wild pitch. C.J. Cron, pinch-hitting for shortstop Taylor Featherston, poked an opposite-field, two-run double to right to tie the score, 5-5.
Johnny Giavotella reached on a bunt single, and Calhoun drove a two-run double into the right-field corner for a 7-5 lead.
For six innings, the Angels flailed away at Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, mustering one run and two hits against a pitcher who entered with a 5.84 ERA and .320 opponents batting average, the highest marks of any qualified starter in the American League.
Then they scored six runs within a span of 11 batters against two of baseball’s best relievers, going three for six with runners in scoring position in the ninth, for a dramatic comeback win over the team with an AL-best 68-46 record.
“This is huge for us,” first baseman Albert Pujols said. “We’ve been struggling. We battled against the best bullpen in the major leagues and got some hits when we needed to. It feels great to get a win on the road. It’s been a while.”
The stunning comeback led to another surprise, a defensive alignment in the bottom of the ninth in which all four Angels infielders played positions they haven’t played this season.
With starting shortstop Erick Aybar unavailable because of back tightness and Cron having hit for Featherston, the Angels had no shortstops on the bench. So they moved Pujols to third, Giavotella from second to short, Conor Gillaspie from third to second and Calhoun from right field to first.
“Dino scrambled from the time Cron got his hit to the time we had our defense out there to put together the best options,” Manager Mike Scioscia said, referring to bench coach Dino Ebel. “That was the best we came up with.”
It worked well enough. Closer Huston Street retired Jarrod Dyson on a grounder to first and Cain on a fly to right. Eric Hosmer homered to make it 7-6, Kendrys Morales singled, and Street walked Mike Moustakas on four pitches, saying afterward that he “absolutely” pitched around Moustakas. Alex Rios flied to center to end the game.
“We go over lineups every day, and we talk about things like this,” Ebel said. “As the inning prolonged, we said we could keep [pinch-runner Shane] Victorino in the game in right field, put Kole at first, and then it got interesting and fun.
“When you start putting guys in different positions, they got all fired up for it, which is good to see. I asked Gillaspie where he was more comfortable, and he said second, so that’s where he went. I told Albert he was playing third, and he said, ‘Go get my glove.’ Guys get fired up when you tie the game and take the lead.”
Right-hander Jered Weaver (4-8, 4.69 ERA) will oppose Kansas City left-hander Danny Duffy (5-5, 4.19) at Kauffman Stadium on Friday at 5 p.m. PDT. TV: FS West; Radio: 830, 1330.