The two men took the mound sharing an ignominious location on the league leaderboard, but they departed it having dulled that distinction. The Angels’ Ricky Nolasco and the Astros’ Mike Fiers led the American League in home runs allowed this season, 18 each, and they matched up Saturday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
Yet the teams combined to hit only one home run in Houston’s subdued 3-1 victory. It happened in the second inning, when Nolasco fell behind Brian McCann, 2-and-1, and the Houston catcher golfed a sinker 20 feet deep into the right-field bleachers.
Otherwise, neither pitcher’s season-long plague presented problems.
The Angels’ offense did. Without the injured Mike Trout, their lineup cycled in and out of success this week. Wednesday, they were shut out. The next two days, they scored 20 runs. Saturday, they mustered two hits, tapping grounder after grounder to the infield, and the only run they scored was unearned.
“Sometimes the hits are going to fall, you’re going to put something together, and you’ll have big numbers,” right fielder Kole Calhoun said. “Other times, you can’t get something to go your way.”
Said Angels manager Mike Scioscia: “We just didn’t square anything up today.”
Fiers did not permit a hit until there were two outs in the fourth inning, when Albert Pujols stroked a single into right field. He did not permit another until the eighth.
Nolasco did not walk a batter, inducing weak contact of his own, but began the fifth by hitting McCann in the foot. Marwin Gonzalez, up next, battled him to 10 pitches before he received a fastball he liked, and he punched it to left field for a single. Yulieski Gurriel powered the next pitch deep to center for a sacrifice fly.
After Jose Altuve began the sixth with a single, Nolasco induced a double-play ball from Carlos Correa. Carlos Beltran then lined a ball off the tip of first base. It bounced high into the air, narrowly avoided the outstretched glove of first baseman C.J. Cron, and counted as a double.
McCann flied out to end the inning, and Nolasco worked around a single to finish the seventh before right-hander Yusmeiro Petit allowed an insurance run on a double, a walk and a single in the eighth.
The seven-inning, two-run effort matched Nolasco’s best of a troublesome season. He entered Saturday with a 5.05 earned-run average and four quality starts in 12 tries.
“Seven with two, I’ll take that all day,” said Nolasco, whose record fell to 2-7.
“Until Revere’s ground ball to Correa,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, “I don’t think they hit a ball hard all day.”
The Angels (32-33) described a different pitcher than they had faced in previous seasons. After his awful start to 2017, Fiers eschewed a mediocre slider in favor of a tighter curveball. That, in tandem with his changeup, made his pitch mix more difficult to decipher.
“You guys got some false advertisement earlier this year,” Fiers told reporters. “This is how I pitch. It’s just a different game when you have your control and you’re throwing everything where you want.”
Revere took second when pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena chopped a ball to third base, beating an Astros defensive shift against their former teammate. It went as a single.
Danny Espinosa pinch-ran for him and, after relief dynamo Chris Devenski entered, Revere and Espinosa executed a double steal while Andrelton Simmons batted.
Soon, Simmons tapped a ground out to short to bring in the Angels’ lone run. Calhoun came up with the tying run 90 feet from home. He swung at and missed a 2-and-2 changeup that looked enticing before it darted below the strike zone.
“It’s got a good bottom to it,” Calhoun said of the pitch that has become Devenski’s signature.
Hinch called in closer Ken Giles for the ninth. Wielding a 98-mph fastball, he walked Pujols, then struck out Yunel Escobar, Cron and Martin Maldonado.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura