Eric Young Jr. has big blast for Angels

Angels left fielder Eric Young Jr. points to the crowd after hitting an eighth inning homer against the Braves on May 31.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Upon contact, Eric Young Jr. knew he had homered. And then his mind raced to his family, to his son, Eric Young III, who died one day into his life in January, born too premature to survive. Young hopped out of his batting stance and trotted around major league basepaths for the first time in three years.

When he returned to home plate, he found his family in his stands and held up three fingers on his left hand, in honor of his son. They did the same back to him.

Young’s home run in the eighth inning supplied the difference in the Angels’ 2-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday at Angel Stadium. In a television interview on the field after it ended, Young began to cry as he discussed the tragic year that he, his wife Victoria, and their family have endured. His grandmother also died earlier this year.


“Those were tears of joy,” he said later. “I’ve shed plenty of tears this year.”

Absent the injured Mike Trout, the Angels (28-28) do not have a lot going for them. For now, Albert Pujols’ bid for 600 home runs is tiding over the team and its fans, and that will continue for at least another night. He could not homer Wednesday, a night when a rather unlikely hero emerged.

“We don’t have our superstar in the lineup,” said Jesse Chavez, the Angels’ starting pitcher. “We have to find a way to piece things together.”

In his third day with the team after taking Trout’s spot on the roster, Young excelled in the field, did not make an out and smashed that improbable shot. Over parts of the last nine seasons, Young, 32, had batted 1,695 times in the major leagues and produced only eight home runs. He had not homered since May 12, 2014, many teams ago.

After he hit No. 599 in his second plate appearance Tuesday, Pujols came up empty in three chances. In his first at-bat Wednesday, Pujols grounded to shortstop for an inning-ending double play. Pujols next blooped a ball off of the end of his bat, deep enough into center field to make it unreachable to Atlanta’s middle infielders, shallow enough to make it unreachable to center fielder Ender Inciarte. Jogging out of the batter’s box, Pujols settled for a single, passing Babe Ruth on the all-time hit list. In his sixth attempt at 600, Pujols grounded to third, and in his seventh he struck out swinging.

Against Chavez, Matt Kemp began the second with a solo shot to right field, his second homer in as many nights. With one out, local product Rio Ruiz drove a ball deep to left field, and Young crashed into the wall in pursuit. His cap was knocked askew, but he caught the ball, and Chavez tipped his cap in response.

Chavez sped through the next four innings, continuing into the seventh, when Atlanta’s Tyler Flowers led off with an infield single. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons fielded it but threw late to first base. Chavez struck out two of the next three men, got a groundout, and was out of it, done for the day. He required 92 pitches to finish his seven best innings of the season.

Right-hander Blake Parker entered for the eighth after the Angels tied the game in the bottom of the seventh.

Their first run scored on an odd defensive sequence, similar to when they pushed nine runs across in Tuesday’s third inning. With one out and men on first and second, Shane Robinson rapped a ball down the third-base line. Ruiz fielded it, stepped on third base, ran into hard-sliding Martin Maldonado and delivered an off-target throw to first, which allowed Danny Espinosa to score.

In the ninth, right-hander Bud Norris logged his 10th save. No Angel had managed to amass 10 saves throughout 2016.

Twitter: @pedromoura