Cornered in an 0-and-2 count against a man who had struck him out 24 hours earlier, Danny Espinosa reconsidered his strategy in Tuesday’s ninth inning at the Oakland Coliseum.
He told himself to wait on Ryan Dull’s next pitch, maybe try to “play pepper” with it. When it was a slider that floated over the plate, Espinosa pounced and sent the baseball soaring through the night. Improbably, he provided the Angels a comeback victory over Oakland 7-6 for their first win of 2017, and his first hit as an Angel. It salvaged Matt Shoemaker’s return to a major league mound and erased the team’s first bullpen blowup.
“To be able to come through for the team is the best feeling,” Espinosa said.
In his first start of 2017, Shoemaker’s goal was to behave the same way he always had. Seven months since he was helped off the field in Seattle because of a 105-mph line drive to the temple, he wanted to be unafraid in his attacking of the opposition and steadfast in his reliance on his split-finger fastball.
The lone exception, he said before he took the Oakland Coliseum mound, was he would not take off his hat as much, so as not to disturb the carbon-fiber protective piece hidden within. And, no, he said, his decision to wear protection was not on order from his wife, Danielle.
“The good thing is that she really doesn’t mind,” Shoemaker said. “She was like, ‘You’ve got a titanium plate in there. You’re probably good if it hits the same spot. Hopefully it never does.’”
At that, he grinned. Yes, he acknowledged, “It makes her feel a little bit better. At the same time, the cool thing is she didn’t really mind either way.”
So Shoemaker stepped up, reared back and delivered a 93-mph fastball down the middle, taken for a strike by Rajai Davis. He retired Davis and Matt Joyce, and then left a 2-and-2 fastball up to Ryon Healy, higher than he hoped. Healy hit it 420 feet to center field.
In the Angels’ half of the second inning, Jefry Marte worked a one-out walk, Cameron Maybin singled and Andrelton Simmons singled. The bases were loaded for Espinosa, who popped out to short right field, but Martin Maldonado followed with a single into right, scoring two runs. Yunel Escobar soon singled into left to score another. The Angels had a two-run lead, and added another run on a Mike Trout fifth-inning triple.
In the bottom of the second, Shoemaker left a 3-and-2 splitter up, and Jed Lowrie hit it out to right field. He retired the next two hitters, then issued another two-out walk, but Maldonado successfully back-picked the baserunner, shortstop Marcus Semien.
Shoemaker threw 25 pitches in the first, 23 in the second, and 16 in the third, which passed briskly because Maldonado threw out Davis, who had tried to steal second after a single. Crouching down, Shoemaker said he heard the ball whiz by him on its way to second base. Maldonado’s throw from his knees was clocked at 87 mph.
“That’s nice to have,” Shoemaker said.
In the fourth, Stephen Vogt led off with a liner back up the middle. It was clocked at 74 mph, not the 105 mph that threatened Shoemaker’s career. Still, the pitcher flinched and protected his head, consciously or unconsciously.
“I thought it was already going to be there, and it was still getting there,” Shoemaker said. “Replaying that moment, I just remember reacting to it.”
The ball snaked past him, and Simmons fielded it for an easy out.
Shoemaker next allowed a double to Lowrie, but pitched out of the jam and set down the Athletics in order in the fifth, his final inning. He threw 99 pitches, walked three Athletics, and struck out four.
It was an unremarkable but capable return. Right-hander Blake Parker handled the sixth but encountered trouble when asked to pitch the seventh. Soon, manager Mike Scioscia replaced him with Bud Norris, pitching for the second consecutive day for just the sixth time in his career. A double, a triple, and an Espinosa error put the A’s ahead 6-4.
Then Marte and Maybin singled, Espinosa capped the Angels’ rally, and Cam Bedrosian recorded his second career save.