A young man from South Korea with a cool name and a mischievous grin came within inches of providing a somewhat historic respite to a disappointing season and rendering pitcher Ricky Nolasco’s uninspiring debut with the Angels moot.
Three innings into Thursday’s 8-6, 10-inning loss to Oakland, Angels left fielder Ji-Man Choi had two home runs, a solo shot to right field in the second and a three-run shot that he curled around the right-field foul pole in the third.
Then in the fifth, the left-handed-hitting Choi sliced a fly ball into the left-field corner and Coco Crisp made a spectacular catch, leaping several feet above the short wall to secure the ball before tumbling into the first row of seats.
That prevented Choi, 25 and playing in only his 33rd big league game, from becoming the 11th player in Angels history and first since Torii Hunter in 2009 to hit three homers in a game.
“It was really hit hard, but I didn’t see where the ball was going — is it a home run? Is it an out?” Choi said through an interpreter. “But credit to Crisp. He made a good play. … Dang!”
But Oakland did its heavy lifting against Nolasco, the right-hander who allowed five runs and six hits, including solo homers by Max Muncy, Ryon Healy and Valencia — all on fastballs up — in the first four innings of his six-inning stint.
Nolasco, the Rialto High School product who was acquired from Minnesota with pitching prospect Alex Meyer for pitcher Hector Santiago on Monday, finished strong, retiring the side in order in the fifth and sixth innings, but plenty of damage was already done.
“It was a battle,” said Nolasco, who struck out four and walked none. “I didn’t do a good job of getting us back in the dugout after we scored some big runs. I had trouble keeping the left-handers off balance. I wasn’t able to throw split-fingered fastballs and sliders to get even and put myself into too many fastball counts.”
Mike Trout, suffering from a head cold that he’s “been battling for a couple of days,” was not in the lineup for only the second time in 108 games this season.
Manager Mike Scioscia moved Albert Pujols from fourth to third, and starting in the cleanup spot for the first time in his five-year career was Andrelton Simmons, who has all of 32 homers, including one this season, in 573 games.
The slick-fielding shortstop seemed a good option because he’s hitting .378 (51 for 135) with 17 multi-hit efforts in 36 games since June 23, raising his average from .204 to .290.
“It’s cool, I guess,” Simmons said. “I just try to keep having good at-bats. I’m not trying to put anything extra on it. I don’t have to be a home-run hitter.”
Simmons had three more hits Thursday, an RBI single ahead of Choi’s three-run homer in the third and singles in the fifth and ninth. Trout entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases with one out.
Alonso bobbled Johnny Giavotella’s grounder for the error that allowed Jefry Marte to score the tying run. But Ryan Madson relieved John Axford and got Yunel Escobar to pop out to second and Kole Calhoun to fly out to center to preserve the tie.
In addition to his home run-robbing catch of Choi, Crisp threw out Simmons attempting to stretch a single into a double in the fifth and hit an RBI double off the right-field wall that gave the A’s a 6-5 lead in the seventh.