It had been more than 2-1/2 years since Drew Smyly won a big league game, the Texas Rangers pitcher missing the 2017 and 2018 seasons because of Tommy John surgery and going winless with a 6.51 earned-run average in his first seven games of 2019.
None of that mattered against the Angels on Friday night. Smyly throws with his left hand, which gave him a good chance of beating them, even with a repertoire that couldn’t hold a candle to that of Chris Sale or Hyun-Jin Ryu.
So it was hardly surprising to see Smyly limit the Angels to three runs and five hits in six innings of a 4-3 victory before a sellout crowd of 43,806 in Angel Stadium to earn his first win since Sept. 13, 2016, at Toronto.
The Angels (22-28), who have lost five straight to fall 11 games behind Houston in the American League West, are 4-14 against left-handed starters and have a major league-worst .211 average against left-handed pitchers.
“He did a good job of using his curveball,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of Smyly, who got two swinging strikes on 64 fastballs, which topped out at 92 mph, and five swinging strikes on 27 curves. “At times it was in the dirt, but when he threw it right, it became a swing-and-miss pitch.”
The Angels fumbled away a 3-2 lead in an unsightly seventh inning in which they committed two errors — including center fielder Mike Trout’s first defensive miscue since 2017 — bobbled a grounder and had one key call go against them.
Shin-Soo Choo led off with a one-hop smash past reliever Cam Bedrosian and directly to shortstop Zack Cozart, who was positioned perfectly in a shift. But the ball handcuffed Cozart, who is filling in for the injured Andrelton Simmons, and caromed off his right wrist and into center field for an error.
“No,” Cozart said, when asked if the ball took a weird hop. “I just missed it.”
Logan Forsythe, with Choo running, walked on a full-count fastball that appeared to catch the inside corner but was called a ball by umpire Mark Wegner, nullifying a strong throw by Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy that would have nailed Choo.
“I thought it was a pretty good pitch,” Bedrosian said. “This game can be really tricky sometimes. You think you have two outs and nobody on, and the next thing you know you have two on with no outs.”
Nomar Mazara’s grounder to second was bobbled by rookie Luis Rengifo, whose only play was to get the out at first. Hunter Pence followed with a line drive to center that dropped in front of and then kicked off the glove of Trout for an error, his first since April 6, 2017, a span of 268 games.
Both runners scored for a 4-3 Rangers lead, but Forsythe probably would have held at third if Trout gloved the ball. Joey Gallo popped out to third and Asdrubal Cabrera struck out to end the inning.
“Mike was caught in between diving and not diving and the ball took a hop,” Ausmus said. “We don’t see errors like that a lot from him, but it just happened to come at a tough time.”
Rangers reliever Jesse Chavez threw a scoreless seventh, Chris Martin threw a scoreless eighth, and Shawn Kelley struck out Trout with a runner on second to end the game for his fifth save.
The late rally prevented Angels starter Griffin Canning, who allowed one run and three hits in five innings, striking out five and walking two, from earning a win.
Canning grooved a 94-mph fastball that Choo crushed for a 439-foot solo homer to right-center in the first inning. He escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the second and a two-on, no-out jam in the third, pushing his pitch count to 72.
But a seven-pitch fourth allowed him to complete five innings and hand a 3-1 lead to Justin Anderson in the sixth.
The Rangers trimmed the deficit to 3-2 with a run off Anderson, Pence leading off with a double to left and scoring on Cabrera’s one-out double to right, a sinking liner that Brian Goodwin got his glove on with a dive but couldn’t hold on to.
The Angels scored all of their runs in the second. Lucroy led off with a 414-foot homer to left-center for a 1-1 tie. Tommy La Stella singled and Goodwin hit a two-out, two-run homer that Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy would have been proud of.
Goodwin sent a towering drive into the right-field corner that traveled only 347 feet and reached 150 feet at its apex, giving Goodwin a hang time of 6.4 seconds. The ball cleared the short wall in right for a 3-1 lead.