The Angels don’t have an ace, don’t have an established closer they can count on, don’t even have a set starting rotation.
What they do have is the major league lead in comeback victories. On Tuesday night at Safeco Field, they again came back to beat Seattle 6-4 in 11 innings, for their 11th comeback victory of 2017.
“We got the win on our terms,” manager Mike Scioscia said.
Kole Calhoun sent a two-run homer out to right in the eighth inning to push the Angels ahead. After a blown save, Albert Pujols shot a go-ahead double past a diving defender in the 11th to do so again. When he became convinced the Mariners were not observing him on the basepaths, he then stole third to help push across an insurance run.
“Those are chances that you need to take,” Pujols said. “If you can steal another run like we did right there, that’s two runs they’re going to have to score to tie, or three to win.”
Said Mariners manager Scott Servais: “We didn’t play the game the right way. It caught us tonight.”
The game marked Matt Shoemaker’s return to Seattle. The Angels right-hander spent more time here than he intended last September after a Kyle Seager line drive fractured his skull and forced him to undergo emergency surgery to stop bleeding in his brain. While the team left for California the night of his start, he stayed in Seattle for four days, away from his expectant wife, Danielle.
Long since recovered, Shoemaker retired eight of the first nine hitters he faced, his lone slip-up a two-out double by Robinson Cano in the first inning. In the third, Shoemaker benefited from a sliding play by Cameron Maybin in left field, but issued a two-out walk to Jean Segura, and then let him steal second. Martin Maldonado’s late throw in vain sailed over the head of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and Segura took third.
Shoemaker issued another walk, and Cano approached. He snuck a single into center, scoring the game’s first run. Soon, Nelson Cruz shot a ball to third, and Yunel Escobar flubbed it, scoring another. Another walk loaded the bases for Danny Valencia, who ripped a ball to Escobar. This time, the third baseman made the play, and Shoemaker was out of it.
He set down the Mariners in order in the fourth, worked around a walk in the fifth, and then yielded a one-out solo shot to Valencia in the sixth, on a slider several inches away from the strike zone, near the batter’s hands. With his next pitch, Shoemaker hit Guillermo Heredia.
Angry, he held up his glove asking Maldonado for the ball, but Scioscia quickly emerged to pull him from the game. Shoemaker exhibited frustration throughout his night, and he said afterward he was unhappy with his wildness.
“There was some other crap going on, but those walks didn’t help,” he said of the troublesome third inning. “That was the damage, mainly.”
On his way into Safeco Field, Shoemaker said, many Mariners employees greeted him with niceties and told him they were glad he was pitching again.
“But once I started my routine, getting ready for the game,’” he said, “it wasn’t even a thought, which was great.”
Behind him, four Angels relievers combined to submit scoreless relief over the next three-plus innings, thanks to Maybin, who leaped over the left-field wall to prevent Heredia from tying the score with an eighth-inning homer.
“The Good Lord blessed me with a lot of athleticism and long limbs,” Maybin said.
Only in the ninth did newly-installed closer Bud Norris falter, allowing two singles and a walk to let Seattle tie the score and send it into extras.
Long before, Pujols notched the Angels’ first hit with a double to begin the second inning. He tripped on himself running around first, then did not advance any farther. Jefry Marte walked, but Andrelton Simmons flied out, and Danny Espinosa and Cameron Maybin struck out swinging.
The Mariners’ starter, left-hander James Paxton, has been one of the most effective pitchers in the sport this season. Possessing a big, powerful frame and corresponding stuff, he has at times demonstrated ace-like ability. There’s no better an example than his success against Mike Trout, whom he had struck out 10 times in 21 plate appearances entering Tuesday.
Sure enough, Paxton struck out Trout and experienced little early trouble, though the Angels made him work.
Maldonado began the third by singling to right, and Yunel Escobar next worked a walk. A wild pitch pushed both of them along. With one out, Paxton threw two consecutive balls to Trout, then intentionally walked him to face Pujols. He struck him out on three pitches — Pujols later said he might have been “too aggressive” — then induced an inning-ending groundout from Marte.
The Angels scored one run in the fourth on a Simmons single and Maybin double, and another run in the fifth, when Trout doubled to the left-field wall, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on a scant sacrifice fly off Marte’s bat. Paxton required 96 pitches to finish five innings, and so he was pulled after he walked Maybin with one out in the sixth.
Servais, the ex-Angels executive, used two relievers to get out of the inning, and then called upon right-hander Tony Zych to handle the seventh and begin the eighth. With two outs and a man on in the eighth, Servais brought in his closer, Diaz, who promptly permitted the homer to Calhoun.
Both teams were stretched to their sixth relievers by game’s end. The Angels’ Deolis Guerra threw two hitless innings to log the victory; the Mariners’ James Pazos permitted the winning hits, lost track of Pujols, and took the loss.
As expected, the Angels activated Luis Valbuena from the 10-day disabled list. The infielder spent the season’s first month sidelined by a hamstring strain suffered late in spring training. He did not start against left-hander James Paxton, but pinch-hit in the seventh inning and popped out into foul territory. Seattle originally signed Valbuena out of his native Venezuela 15 years ago. The Angels demoted right-hander Jose Valdez to triple-A Salt Lake to create roster space for him. …Right-handers Yusmeiro Petit, Alex Meyer and Daniel Wright are among the candidates to start Thursday in the place of Tyler Skaggs, who was placed on the disabled list because of an oblique strain. …Pitchers Jesse Chavez and JC Ramirez took batting practice Tuesday. The Angels play their first games of the season in a National League park later this month.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura