Santa Claus threw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday at Angel Stadium, although sources later confirmed that it was only someone dressed as him.
As weird at that might sound —it was all part of the Angels’ “Christmas in June” promotion — the real strangeness came later off reliever Justin Anderson.
The rookie gave up a three-run homer to Steve Pearce with two outs in the ninth inning as the Angels fell to Toronto 4-1.
It was the first home run Anderson had given up since May 11, 85 batters ago.
For a bullpen that has had its sour moments of late, Anderson surrendering epic shots hasn’t been an issue.
“He just left a slider over the heart of the plate to Pearce,” manager Mike Scioscia said.
“His stuff was good. Give those guys some credit. They put some hits together.”
Luis Valbuena had just tied the score 1-1 in the eighth with a two-out solo homer punctuated with one of his signature bat flips, a knowing glance back into the home dugout and leisurely jaunt around the bases.
It was Valbuena’s third homer in the series and ninth of the season, giving him more than, among others, Jose Altuve, Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto.
With regulars AlbertPujols, Ian Kinsler and Martin Maldonado getting a day off Saturday, the Angels started five rookies, including pitcher Jaime Barria.
David Fletcher, Jose Briceno, Jose Fernandez and Michael Hermosilloentered with a combined 35 big-league games of experience. Barria was making his 10th career start.
It was the first time the Angels started as many as five rookies since Sept. 30, 2016. But that day, the team was 13 games below .500, playing game No. 160 and finishing out the season.
The Angels entered Saturday — just the third official day of summer — very much in the mode of contending for something significant in 2018.
And they were facing a starter who, although he was the MVP of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, wasn’t exactly on a roll.
Marcus Stroman was making his first appearance since missing more than six weeks because of shoulder fatigue.
He also was winless in his first seven starts, his most recent victory coming in September.
The Angels then permitted Stroman to continually escape disaster as they failed to find the right hit at the right time.
With runners at first and third in the first, Valbuena struck out and Andrelton Simmons grounded out.
With the bases loaded in the third, Fletcher was thrown out at home trying to score on a short fly to center by Valbuena.
With runners at first and second in the fourth, Fernandez flied out and Hermosillo grounded out.
The Angels were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position against Stroman, who was pulled after a 1-2-3 fifth inning.
“We had some opportunities early and just couldn’t get that hit,” Scioscia said. “We had some good looks. Give Stroman credit. He made some good pitches.”
With the Angels set to start converted reliever Felix Pena on Sunday, they needed some innings from Barria.
That possibility seemed shaky at best as he wiggled through a 24-pitch second inning, walking Russell Martin and Randal Grichuk in consecutive at-bats.
But Barria, as he has done repeatedly during his first big-league season, worked around that potential mess and, once again, avoided calamity.
Despite his walk total reaching four before there was an out in the fourth inning, despite the Blue Jays putting two runners on in both the second and fourth, Barria gave up only one run-producing swing.
He gave up a solo homer to Teoscar Hernandez that traveled an estimated 424 feet.
Barria needed 93 pitches — his second-highest total of the season — to make it through five innings.
But he did make it through five innings on a night when something less was very plausible.