The Angels were six outs away from being swept by a team they were supposed to sweep. And then Mike Trout approached the Miller Park batter's box Wednesday afternoon to face Milwaukee reliever Tyler Thornburg.
Seventeen hours prior, Thornburg had spotted a two-strike curveball on the outside corner to strike out Trout looking. This time, Trout was ready for the same pitch, timing his swing so that his bat barrel powered the ball out to right field. The home run set into motion an Angels rally that realized a 7-3 win over the rebuilding Brewers. It did not salvage the six-game trip — they finished it 2-4 — but it averted an abject disaster.
"That would've been a tough way to go out, getting swept out here," said Joe Smith, who recorded the first two-inning save of his career to secure the victory. "Coming in here, I think we expected to do better than we did."
Said Trout: "You look back in September, these are the games that matter the most."
Said Manager Mike Scioscia: "We earned it. We played hard."
The Angels are off Thursday. It is necessary. For seven straight games, their starting pitcher has failed to finish six innings, taxing a bullpen that withstood the test throughout. Smith's save stretched their work to 7 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.
"Our challenge right now is to keep these guys fresh, but also understand the importance to have guys come in and get outs," Scioscia said. "We have to balance that."
Said Smith: "You just look around and you realize how much guys have pitched this trip."
Scioscia tried as hard as he could to break the streak of starts. He left left-hander Hector Santiago in to throw 116 pitches, still not enough. In a 2-2 tie in the sixth, Santiago loaded the bases on two singles and a walk before Scioscia brought in right-hander Cam Bedrosian.
Bedrosian retired both hitters he faced, but a wild breaking ball that bounced a few feet away from the plate let in the go-ahead run. The Angels stranded a runner in the seventh, and were facing the likelihood of an ugly conclusion to their Midwest stint. Last month, they were swept in Minneapolis.
After Trout's tying homer, the Angels rallied for three more runs in the eighth and another in the ninth. Kole Calhoun first singled sharply to center, and, with two outs, Geovany Soto walked. C.J. Cron then pinch-hit and flared a fastball out to left field to drive in the go-ahead run. He scored alongside Soto shortly thereafter, when Johnny Giavotella singled through to left.
Calhoun singled in Yunel Escobar in the ninth, becoming the 17th Angels baserunner of the day. Nine of their players reached base.
Santiago walked the first two men he faced, then promptly pitched out of the jam, punctuating it with a strikeout of Chris Carter. After making the last out of the top of the second inning, Santiago ran out to the mound late and did not make his normal allotment of warmup pitches.
Five pitches into the inning, Santiago served up a solo home run to Hernan Perez. He allowed harmless singles in the third and fourth innings. Then, leading off the fifth, Santiago permitted three consecutive singles to produce a run, before inducing an infield fly and a double-play ball from Carter.
In the fourth, Santiago blasted a fastball from Brewers starter Zach Davies 375 feet and missed first base as he rounded it en route to second, forcing him to settle for a single.
At 349 feet, Trout's home run was his shortest since June 2014. He did not think he had hit it out. It was a home run by a margin of about a foot. But it was a home run — his seventh of 2016, and, as of now, his most important.