For the second time in barely five weeks, the Angels won when a batter named Zack delivered a walk-off hit against a pitcher named Zach.
And you thought the most inexplicable thing to happen Sunday at Angel Stadium was manager Mike Scioscia’s decision to remove a dominating Shohei Ohtani.
“That’s a little crazy, right?” said Zack Cozart, who has two game-ending hits after having zero in his first six years in the big leagues. “I never even thought about that. That’s weird.”
His run-scoring single in the ninth inning against Minnesota’s Zach Duke lifted the Angels to a 2-1 victory. On April 4 at Angel Stadium, Cozart’s 13th-inning home run against Cleveland’s Zach McAllister was the difference.
That’s a lot of Z’s coming together in moments too tense for anyone to be napping. Before the hit, the Angels were one for 13 — and two for 23 over two games — with runners in scoring position.
“The Angels must be my good-luck charm,” said Cozart, who played 749 games before getting his first walk-off hit and only 28 more before getting his second.
The thrilling finish salvaged what also was an exhilarating start, Ohtani striking out 11 batters and limiting the Twins to one run and three hits in 6 1/3 innings.
During one stretch, six consecutive outs and nine of 11 outs came via strikeout as the right-hander found so many holes that he threatened to turn Minnesota’s bats into the land of 10,000 leaks.
“That was a pretty phenomenal start,” Scioscia said. “His presence in a tight ballgame is what Shohei’s about.”
In the seventh, however, the story instead became about Ohtani’s absence. He was pulled after throwing a career-high 103 pitches and walking Logan Morrison.
The cheers Ohtani exited to were more than matched by the boos that greeted Scioscia’s choice to go to the bullpen.
“We’re trying to stage him up a little bit,” said Scioscia, citing 110 pitches as Ohtani’s next checkpoint. “I don’t think we need to stretch Shohei right now.”
Still, the move became even less popular only two batters later when Cam Bedrosian gave up a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Joe Mauer, making it 1-1 and ending Ohtani’s chance to be rewarded with a victory.
That led to perhaps an hour’s worth of consternation among the faithful, until Cozart came through. Many of those fans no doubt already were fretting about Mike Trout not being in the lineup.
Few players start 162 games these days, and, at some point, Trout has to rest, there being no good time to not play the player generally regarded as the best in baseball.
Without Trout, who later entered as a pinch-hitter and finished in center field, Scioscia inserted .165-hitting Kole Calhoun into the No. 2 spot in the order.
The unorthodox move is one Scioscia said he has discussed over the years with several of his coaches, including Joe Maddon, whose less-than-traditional thinking as a manager has won everything from admiration to a World Series.
The decision, however, didn’t work as Calhoun went hitless in three at-bats, striking out twice and stranding three runners.
As it was, Trout struck out looking in his only plate appearance, though he helped “save the game” — Cozart’s words — with a throw that second baseman Ian Kinsler in turn relayed home to nail Ehire Adrianza in the top of the ninth inning.
“At the end of the year,” Kinsler said, “those are plays that can change the course of a season.”
Injuries can, too, and the Angels’ win came with a loss, a potentially significant one, when reliever Keynan Middleton walked off the mound in the eighth inning because of what Scioscia called “a little elbow discomfort.”
Having just returned from the disabled list Thursday because of inflammation in the same area, Middleton left after getting two outs and throwing 12 pitches. He’s scheduled to have an MRI exam Monday.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” said Scioscia, the Angels hoping their luck didn’t end when Sunday’s game did.