Joe Smith broke into the major leagues in 2007. In the first 590 relief appearances of his career, he had never once been beaten for multiple home runs. Once, last year, the side-arming right-hander noted his remarkable penchant for giving up four every season.
And then came Saturday, when the Angels setup man entered a tied ballgame in the eighth inning and gave up back-to-back home runs that totaled 881 feet in the air, effectively handing Minnesota a second consecutive victory over the Angels at Target Field, 6-4.
"Stay in this game long enough, [stuff] is gonna happen," Smith said.
Nearing the end of a once-fruitful career, starting pitcher Jered Weaver is experiencing something similar. The 33-year-old Angels right-hander could not command his fastball Saturday, repeatedly missing up in the zone as the Twins hammered his low-velocity offerings around the diamond.
He finished only 4 1/3 innings and yielded eight hits, walked two and hit a batter. He struck out only one Twin. He exited with runners at second and third in the fifth inning and would've been charged with more than four runs had reliever Cory Rasmus not entered and saved him.
"He was really struggling with most of what he was trying to do," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He wasn't able to establish much."
Weaver's second pitch was sent by Eduardo Nunez to the right-field wall, where Kole Calhoun overplayed it and then threw wildly, missing the cutoff man and allowing Nunez to reach third base with a triple. For Nunez and the next batter, Brian Dozier, Weaver's fastball was consistently called a changeup by the PITCHf/x system visible to fans at the ballpark. It clocked in mostly at 81 and 82 mph, with the occasional 84-mph reading.
He said, as he has often said, that his poor performance had more to do with the location of his pitches than their velocity.
"I was just up in the zone," Weaver said. "It was a battle trying to get through it. Those guys didn't miss my mistakes and hit the ball pretty hard."
Weaver permitted two runs in the first inning and one in the third, on a home run by Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe. In the fifth, with Rasmus warm in the bullpen, Scioscia left Weaver in to face Plouffe a third time. He doubled in the tying run.
Rasmus did not allow a baserunner over 2 2/3 dominant innings. When he was done, Scioscia called on Smith, who retired the first hitter he faced and then threw a sinker on the outside corner. Anticipating the pitch, Oswaldo Arcia ambushed it and powered it out to left-center.
"I'd throw it again," Smith said.
The pitch that elicited the second home run, not so much. He hung a slider in a 2-2 count to Byung-Ho Park, and Park hit it 462 feet to straightaway center.
Smith lamented the bullpen's performance in Minnesota following a successful series in Oakland.
"These guys are playing too well," he said. "We should've won that game last night, definitely, and we should've still been in it today, tied going into the ninth."
Six straight Angels reached base in the second inning, when they scored all their runs against Twins starter Ricky Nolasco. C.J. Cron, Andrelton Simmons and Geovany Soto each singled, and Cliff Pennington brought two of them in with a double. Yunel Escobar drove in Pennington with a single, but was caught attempting to stretch it into a double. After a walk and a stolen base, Mike Trout struck out looking.
Trout left four runners on base in the game. In 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position this season, Trout has no hits, a fact he said was "frustrating" after Saturday's game. Nolasco, the former Dodgers right-hander, tamed him with his slider-curveball combination.
In the third inning, Albert Pujols ran hard on a grounder to third and appeared to evade the tag of Park at first base. He was ruled out in real time, but he was adamant he was safe, and Manager Mike Scioscia challenged the ruling. Video replays showed he was not tagged, but the umpires confirmed the initial decision.