A “bullpen game” is a lot easier to absorb in September, when expanded rosters give managers a dozen or more relievers to work with, but that doesn’t necessarily make them more palatable.
The Angels, whose rotation has been ravaged by injuries, opened Tuesday night’s game with reliever Jim Johnson, who was making his first start since his major league debut in 2006 — that was 666 appearances ago — and backed the right-hander with seven relievers.
“They’re not by design,” manager Mike Scioscia said before the game. “We wish we had Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Nick Tropeano and JC Ramirez. You go down the list. These are the guys you wish you had at this point of the season, not a bullpen day.”
After the tag-team relief effort of Johnson, Noe Ramirez, Hansel Robles, Cam Bedrosian, Justin Anderson, Jose Alvarez, Blake Parker and Ty Buttrey came within five outs of a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory over the Texas Rangers in Angel Stadium, Scioscia started to come around to the idea of a “bullpen game.” Well, kind of.
“We used a lot of guys tonight, and we got it done,” Scioscia said. “It can be effective, but as a rule, our team is not set up to do that three days a week.”
The Angels gave up only two hits and almost made history, falling just short of the franchise’s second combined no-hitter and the 11th overall no-hitter.
Johnson opened the game with 11/3 innings. Ramirez (5-5) struck out three batters in 12/3 innings. Robles, Bedrosian, Anderson and Alvarez each threw perfect innings, sparking some much-needed September drama to a season in which the Angels were essentially eliminated from playoff contention in mid-August.
Parker retired Willie Calhoun on a fly ball to center field to open the eighth inning, but catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa lined a 91-mph fastball into right field for a clean single.
“I was bummed, big time,” Parker said. “I was following the game. As much as it’s something you don’t want to be focused on, it’s always in the back of your head.”
Parker got Drew Robinson to fly to left for the second out, but Rougned Odor singled to advance Kiner-Falefa to third. Scioscia replaced Parker with Buttrey, the hard-throwing right-hander who was acquired from Boston in the July 30 trade for Ian Kinsler.
Odor stole second. Jurickson Profar shot a one-hopper that appeared headed down the left-field line before third baseman Kaleb Cowart intervened. Cowart made a nice backhand stop of the ball and a long, accurate throw to first to end the inning. Buttrey threw a one-two-three ninth for his second save.
“It was one of those games where you’re going bullpen, you’re not scoring runs, and it takes one hiccup for the game to swing in the other team’s favor,” Scioscia said. “Lucky for us, in the eighth, we got a big play from Cowart and Butt came in and made some great pitches.”
The Angels had only two hits, but one was Jose Fernandez’s first career home run, a solo shot to right field against Adrian Sampson (0-1) in the second.
The Angels gave the 30-year-old first baseman the silent treatment upon his return to the dugout. Mike Trout ended the prank, and started the celebration, by throwing a cup of water in Fernandez’s face.
The Rangers hit only two balls out of the infield before Kiner-Falefa’s single. Second baseman David Fletcher preserved the no-hitter with a nice play to end the fifth, ranging toward the middle to make a backhand stop of Robinson’s grounder and making an off-balance throw to first base.
Taking it all in from behind the plate was catcher Joe Hudson, who was acquired from Cincinnati on June 30 and nearly caught a no-hitter in his first big league start.
“In the back of your mind, you’re like, ‘Has this ever been done before?’” Hudson said. “It would have been pretty cool. We almost got it done, but it was still fun, regardless. We got the zero. We got the win. It was a very special day.”