The shadows began their march across the diamond from the first pitch Wednesday. The Angels’ midafternoon finale against the Detroit Tigers made the contest a game of time: If the Angels’ bats were to awaken, it would either be very early, when the darkness was still washing across the third-base line, or very late, when it had overtaken the whole field.
The early window came and went. By the fourth inning, the shadows had swallowed the mound, and the Angels were hitless. Michael Fulmer’s fastball, which sizzled to as high as 98 mph, became all the more inscrutable. Hitters couldn’t see the laces spin.
“You missed a pitch,” Mike Trout said, “you were in trouble.”
The Angels haven’t been no-hit since 1999, but Fulmer made a credible assault on that mark, in a 3-0 Tigers win.
The night before, the Angels whacked a season-high 17 hits. Four of them were home runs. No such luck Wednesday.
Other than a walk, Fulmer denied the Angels safe passage through 6 2/3 innings, until C.J. Cron finally broke up the no-hit bid with a clean single.
Fulmer, compared cautiously by his Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus to Roy Oswalt, required no defensive acrobats. There was the fifth inning, when Jefry Marte (he of the four-for-four, one-homer performance on Tuesday) smoked a line drive, but right at second baseman Ian Kinsler, who didn’t have to move his feet.
The rookie paid little mind to the no-hitter, until right about that moment.
“You look up there and see a zero under the hits column,” Fulmer said. “Obviously, it’s there. Anybody who tells you they know nothing about it, they’re lying.”
When Trout came up in the seventh, Fulmer induced a weak tapper. It was a significant out. It meant Fulmer was seven outs away from a no-hitter — and could avoid facing the league’s best hitter again.
Cron was the next batter. Finally, he timed Fulmer’s 98-mph offering. With an easy swing, he guided the ball into shallow right field.
“He beat me with my best pitch, so hats off to him,” Fulmer said.
The Angels mustered only one more hit. Fulmer lasted 72/3 innings, walked two and struck out eight, and the Angels fell to 24-29.
Matt Shoemaker offers hope for a more formidable rotation. The right-hander’s resurgence continued Wednesday.
He yielded doubles in the fifth and the sixth, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kinsler plated them with singles, but he cruised for much of the game. He gave up two runs and 10 hits, three that never left the infield. Over seven innings, he struck out eight batters and, again, issued no walks.
Not long ago, Shoemaker, whose struggles boomeranged him to and from the minors in May, wondered if someone had plagued him with a “voodoo curse.” By the fifth inning Wednesday, a third-strike changeup established a new Angels record for strikeouts without a walk. Frank Tanana (1976) previously held the record. Now it’s Shoemaker’s, at 33.
Shoemaker had struck out 10 or more, without a walk, in his last two outings. Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard are the only other pitchers to accomplish that this season.
“Earlier on I feel like, mentally, I was just throwing,” Shoemaker said. “I was just grabbing a ball, throw it. Not having intent behind the pitch.”
Recently, Shoemaker has attacked hitters more willingly. He’s more generous with his split-finger, his command is improved and his fastball has cranked up to around 93 mph.
“What he did in 2014, none of us felt that was a fluke,” Manager Mike Scioscia said earlier this week. “He found himself. And you saw the way he threw the last couple of games was reminiscent of how he pitched in 2014, so it’s in him.”
The Angels wasted Shoemaker’s competence. They threatened only once. Down 2-0, Petit’s two-out ground-rule double in the eighth put runners on second and third and knocked out Fulmer. The Tigers called on closer Francisco Rodriguez for a four-out save, and Johnny Giavotella grounded out to end the opportunity.
The Angels have an off day before they escape the Southern California sun to Pittsburgh, to play the Pirates. Saturday’s game, like Wednesday’s, will start in the midafternoon.
“Hopefully it’s cloudy,” Trout said.