Jered Weaver cannot throw his fastball fast anymore, and, on Sunday, he soon ascertained he could not throw even the slow fastballs where he wanted.
Presented with that truth and faced with the prospect of another failed outing in a season already testing his threshold for exasperation, he did the only other thing he could fathom: He barged in from the top. Weaver threw curveball after changeup after curveball and found rare success.
"The front door was locked, the backdoor was bolted," Weaver said. "So, I was coming in through the chimney today."
From center field, Mike Trout watched Santa Claus in awe as the Angels battered Baltimore, 10-2, at Angel Stadium. Trout tried to predict what pitches Weaver would throw. Over and over, he said, he failed.
"He got me every time," Trout said. "It just keeps you so off balance. It's frustrating. It has to be."
Weaver walked the first man he faced, and allowed him to steal second at the same moment he struck out Manny Machado. One out later, Chris Davis seemed to rip a ball through to right field — except that second baseman Johnny Giavotella was positioned on the tip of the grass. He quickly dove, secured the ball and delivered the throw in time to preserve the scoreless tie. Weaver held his hand to his cap for five seconds, giving thanks.
"If he doesn't make that play," he said, "who knows what happens."
Weaver would not find himself in as precarious a position again. He yielded a single to Jonathan Schoop in the second, then picked him off. His neck, a problem in the spring, tightened in the third, then loosened before the fourth, when he allowed a single to Adam Jones and kept him at first.
With two outs in the fifth, Caleb Joseph drove a ball to left field, not particularly hard but far. Rafael Ortega ranged to the wall to snare it. That was the closest the Orioles came to a run until the seventh inning, when Schoop snapped Weaver's 100th pitch into the Angels bullpen, beyond the left-field fence. A curveball hung. It traveled 433 feet.
The Angels bullpen stirred, and Manager Mike Scioscia went to visit the mound. He and Weaver had a lengthy, demonstrative discussion, and the veteran right-hander remained in the game. He faced one more batter and retired him.
Throwing only 20% fastballs per BrooksBaseball.net, Weaver never walked a man after the first one. In all, the Orioles struck out six times, half of which were Machado's.
Remarkably, the 23-year-old struck out three times against the same pitcher for the second straight day. In 491 career games before Saturday, he had never done so.
Facing Ubaldo Jimenez, the Angels' Yunel Escobar led off the first with a single and the third with a double. The first time, he stayed stranded. The second time, the Angels rallied around him, scoring four runs before hitting into an out. Another run scored when Ryan Flaherty flubbed a grounder off Carlos Perez's bat. Gregorio Petit could have driven in another, but Machado stopped his grounder and flipped it quickly enough to start a double play.
The Angels scored a solitary run in the second on a blooper from Perez, and four runs in the seventh on a string of singles and a three-run home run, also from Perez.
It was the best day of the 25-year-old catcher's season. He struggled for so long before beginning to hit for power 10 days ago. He has raised his OPS almost 200 points in that time, by virtue, he said, of a leg kick he incorporated into his swing.
"I've been aggressive all over the plate, and it's been working out," Perez said.
Amid the seventh-inning rally, Trout tripped on third base while stopping and turned his right ankle. He hobbled back to the base, warded off the team's trainer, then exited the game shortly thereafter, in what he termed a precautionary move.
"It scared me when it happened," Trout said. "But it's fine. I'm happy I caught myself. It could've been a lot worse."
Saturday night, the Angels suffered their toughest loss of the season, near-perfection by Matt Shoemaker wasted in the ninth inning. Fifteen hours later, they diminished the sting.
"A game like last night could become a distraction if you're too deflated and guys come in and start to press," Scioscia said. "I think our guys kept perspective."