The Angels’ twisting season moved into the realm of satire on Saturday. A man who was so sizable a failure for them last season he thought he might be finished instead delivered the theatrical, decisive blow in their most recent defeat.
After notching one hit against left-handers in one year as an Angel, Matt Joyce launched one, bigger hit in his first chance against them, a three-run, pinch-hit home run to provide Pittsburgh an 8-7 win over the Angels at PNC Park, a victory made sweeter by his 2015 struggles.
“I really enjoyed my time over there,” Joyce said, “besides the failing part of it.”
For the second consecutive day, Kole Calhoun hit an early home run against a left-handed pitcher, this time to straightaway center in the first inning. He has three homers against pitchers of each proclivity this season; his overall statistics between the two are similar.
The Angels moved up Jhoulys Chacin one day to start Saturday when Nick Tropeano was sidelined by a shoulder injury. Chacin found out when he returned to the dugout from his Friday afternoon bullpen session, which followed his best start in years, a complete-game victory Monday.
He was nowhere near as sharp Saturday. He thought he gave up the game-tying home run in the second inning, when he left a sinker up and Starling Marte powered it deep to straightaway center field. But, with Chacin’s head already between his legs, the ball bounced off the top of the fence for a double.
Jung-Ho Kang buried his next pitch into the Angels’ bullpen for a two-run home run. Josh Harrison followed with a single, and, with one out, Chris Stewart walked. Pirates starter Jeff Locke bunted them both over, and then Chacin faced John Jaso with a lot on the line. He induced a grounder to first base and beat Jaso to the base, ending the inning.
Chacin would never work easily on the afternoon. He walked in the go-ahead run in the fourth inning. After five, he was done, replaced by Cam Bedrosian.
Fernando Salas entered for the seventh, the game tied because of a Shane Robinson solo homer. His first pitch was a perfectly placed changeup on the outside corner, which Gregory Polanco whacked to right field, an estimated 451 feet from home plate. Only a signpost stopped it from reaching the Allegheny River.
Salas then yielded a single to Marte. Johnny Giavotella threw it away, allowing Marte to take second, and Harrison soon singled to left, allowing Marte to score. After a walk and a flyout, Manager Mike Scioscia removed Salas for rookie left-hander Greg Mahle.
Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle had already pinch-hit Joyce for Locke. In one season as an Angel, Joyce recorded one hit in 21 left-on-left at-bats. He had not homered against a left-hander in two years. Scioscia thought Hurdle might burn Joyce and pinch-hit Sean Rodriguez, another ex-Angel.
But homer off Mahle he did, improbably. Experiencing a resurgence this season, Joyce slammed a stagnant fastball deep to center for a three-run homer that pushed the Pirates ahead by five runs. It seemed an immediate dagger, but it turned out to be a slow, twisting one — the Angels first rallying for four runs off All-Star set-up man Tony Watson.
Robinson walked, Yunel Escobar doubled, Calhoun singled, and, after Mike Trout popped out, Albert Pujols singled. Giavotella notched an RBI groundout, and Carlos Perez doubled to bring the Angels within one. They stayed that way for the duration, going down in order against closer Mark Melancon in the ninth.
In the bottom half of the eighth, Joe Smith walked two Pirates and hit another, earning him a visit from trainer Adam Nevala. He waved him off. Afterward, Scioscia said the reason for the visit was a sore hamstring, and Smith confirmed he has been bothered by it for weeks.
He thinks compensating for it led to his arm feeling remarkably sore Tuesday. That night, he did not pitch in a situation he ordinarily would have.
“It’s definitely affected my delivery,” Smith said. “Some days are better than others. Today probably wasn’t the best day.”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura