The decision to send Matt Shoemaker to the mound for the ninth inning with a one-run lead and a pitch count of 99 did not look so wise when Adam Eaton smacked the Angels right-hander’s first pitch of the frame into left-center field for a double Saturday night.
Jose Abreu grounded out to shortstop and Melky Cabrera singled sharply to left, Eaton holding at third but pushing Shoemaker into a precarious first-and-third, one-out jam, a pitching gem or disappointing finish hanging in the balance.
“In that situation, a double play is the best-case scenario,” Shoemaker said. “A popout, a strikeout, any of those was kind of the goal. You just want to execute your pitches and go right at guys, attack them and be aggressive.”
Closer Huston Street was ready in the bullpen, but as Shoemaker’s pitch count approached 110, Manager Mike Scioscia remained in the dugout, showing faith and confidence in his starter.
Shoemaker rewarded the decision by striking out Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau, both with nasty split-fingered fastballs in the dirt, to close out a 1-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox in Angel Stadium.
Shoemaker out-dueled right-hander James Shields in the crisp 2-hour 20-minute game, allowing six hits, striking out 13, a career high, and walking none for his first career shutout and complete game.
Shields also went the distance, allowing two hits but got no support from an offense that has gone 32 consecutive innings without a run dating to the third inning of a July 9 game against Atlanta.
“Shoe pitched with his back against the wall against a lineup filled with guys who can hit one mistake and tie the game,” Scioscia said. “It was an exceptional effort, especially with him getting a little tired at the end. But we all felt he had enough to get through that ninth inning.”
Shoemaker was as dominant in a June 11 game against Cleveland, allowing three hits and striking out 11 batters in eight innings, but Scioscia did not send him out for the ninth because he thought Shoemaker, at 108 pitches, was showing signs of fatigue. That wasn’t the case Saturday night.
“I think the over-riding factor was we thought Matt still had his good split working, and his velocity was fine,” Scioscia said. “You’re always worried about missing some spots, but Charlie [Nagy, pitching coach] and I totally felt he had enough to start the ninth inning and to see where it went.”
Shoemaker is 5-9 with a 4.08 earned-run average this season and has a 2.37 ERA with 88 strikeouts and nine walks in 761/3 innings of his last 11 starts. He was runner-up in American League rookie-of-the-year voting in 2014, but this was the first time he was mobbed by teammates on the mound at the end of a game.
“That was great, and I appreciated the trust he had in me to get through that,” Shoemaker, who threw 115 pitches, 85 for strikes, said of Scioscia.
“I think everyone in this room would want the ball in that situation. … That was a lot of fun in that ninth inning, with the crowd getting into it like that. It’s awesome. It was memorable.”
The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when leadoff man Yunel Escobar tripled off the center-field wall and Mike Trout tapped a run-scoring grounder to second base. They did not get another hit until Ji-Man Choi’s one-out double down the left-field line in the eighth inning.
But they did the little things necessary to win a 1-0 game. Second baseman Johnny Giavotella made a diving stop to his left of Morneau’s sinking liner in the fifth, and Trout leaped on the warning track in center field to catch J.B. Shuck’s sixth-inning drive.
Left fielder Todd Cunningham, who replaced Daniel Nava in the eighth inning, charged Cabrera’s ninth-inning single and made a strong throw home to keep Eaton at third base. And catcher Jett Bandy blocked several strike-three pitches in the dirt and called a good game.
“We didn’t do much to pressure Shields,” Scioscia said, “but on the defensive end, we held up.”