The baseball landed in between the men left standing in Angel Stadium’s home bullpen, an appropriate resting place for the decisive hit in a game defined by relievers. C.J. Cron had anticipated the two-strike slider hurtling his way, and he timed it just right.
Cron’s teammates 427 feet from home plate celebrated as his two-run home run grazed the edge of their dirt mound. It was the sixth inning, but the Angels had what they needed to secure a tense 7-6 victory over Texas on Friday and gain a game in their seesaw American League wild-card chase. They trail Minnesota by two games.
“This,” Cron said, “is when baseball gets fun.”
On Thursday afternoon, Bud Norris wondered who would start for the Angels on Friday.
After that night’s game, Angels manager Mike Scioscia approached him in the clubhouse kitchen with wholly unexpected news: It’d be him.
Norris had started 185 major league games but not one in 2017. He was this team’s closer for much of the season. So it was a curious choice. But someone had to begin the parade from the Angels’ bullpen in the team’s quest to replace the injured Andrew Heaney.
The ordering seemed to work. Norris needed only seven pitches to finish the first inning and 10 to complete the second, helped by Cron’s sliding spear of a Joey Gallo line drive at first base.
After Will Middlebrooks singled to begin the third, Scioscia turned to other relievers. First, he called in Jose Alvarez, then Blake Wood, Jesse Chavez, Yusmeiro Petit, Cam Bedrosian and, finally, Blake Parker.
“Our bullpen stubbed their toes a couple times tonight,” Scioscia said. “But the other guys picked it up.”
Facing Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez, the Angels scored first. To begin the fourth, Justin Upton stroked a double to left-center. With one out, Kole Calhoun bounced a ball on top of the short wall near the left-field foul pole. Because it boomeranged back onto the field, it went as an RBI double, despite Scioscia’s protests that it should count as a home run. An Andrelton Simmons single scored Calhoun, rendering the ruling insignificant.
Texas then matched the Angels’ output in each of the next two innings against Chavez. In the fifth, Gallo earned a single on a dribbler, Middlebrooks drilled a double to the wall, and Brett Nicholas singled to score them both. In the sixth, Delino DeShields singled, and Shin-Soo Choo shot a homer onto the tip of the wall, just a few feet from where Calhoun’s double hit. But Choo’s ball bounced the other way, into the stands. So, it went as a homer.
The Rangers led 4-2 but only until the bottom of the inning. Mike Trout led off with a single and scored when Upton doubled again. Calhoun walked, and Simmons singled into right to score Upton and tie the score. Luis Valbuena hit a sacrifice fly to push the Angels ahead, and Cron sauntered to home plate.
The Angels managed no more offense after his strike. While striking out in the seventh inning, Brandon Phillips tweaked a muscle in his side and Kaleb Cowart replaced him at second base.
Even staked to a three-run lead, Bedrosian found trouble in the eighth, loading the bases without recording an out. Quickly, Scioscia turned to Parker, his reliever most likely to produce a strikeout.
Parker notched only one strikeout, but he also did not surrender any hits. Two Texas sacrifice flies made it a one-run game. Left in for another inning with no one warming behind him, Parker retired the Rangers in order.
“We needed someone to step up tonight,” Simmons said. “He definitely did that.”
Reliever Keynan Middleton, who exited a Thursday appearance because of irritation in the ulnar nerve within his elbow, played catch Friday. Scioscia termed Middleton day-to-day but said he would have to complete a bullpen session before he could resume pitching in games. … Heaney did not throw Friday for the third consecutive day. Scioscia said Heaney was waiting for medicine to take hold within his sore shoulder. … The Angels sent right-hander Elvin Rodriguez to Detroit to complete the teams’ Aug. 31 trade for Upton. Rodriguez, 19, was not highly ranked in the Angels’ farm system but produced solid statistics in limited innings.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura