Eric Young Jr. spent a significant portion of the last four years trying to get back to the big leagues. Home runs were not on his radar. He hit three, total, between 2013 and 2016.
Somehow, in two weeks as an Angel, since Mike Trout tore his thumb, the 32-year-old journeyman has managed to match that total. His third, an eighth-inning solo shot Tuesday night at Angel Stadium, propelled the Angels into a 2-2 tie with the Yankees. The score stayed that way until the 11th inning. After two teammates walked, Young lined a single off of New York reliever Ben Heller’s left hamstring to supply his club the 3-2 victory and secure himself an icebath.
Once his home run landed in the first row of the right-field bleachers, Young’s sprint turned into a glide. The elation was clear, if still subdued. Once he could see his teammates on the runway from second base to third, he could no longer contain himself. He shouted. He could not stop moving his hands. He nearly knocked over on-deck hitter Cameron Maybin in their celebratory armbar.
As he walked to the batter’s box to face the Yankees’ Tyler Clippard, Young later said, he was not thinking of the possibility he’d hit his third homer in as big of a spot as his previous two. He was telling himself the same stuff he always does: Hit something hard, and hit it with a lot of backspin.
“Fortunately,” Young said, “that particular ball had enough backspin to carry over the fence.”
In its late innings, the game was replete with tension. Even early, each team committed a sizable gaffe to allow a run.
To begin, Angels starter JC Ramirez struck out Brett Gardner, then yielded a sharp single to Aaron Hicks. Up walked rookie sensation Aaron Judge to loud applause. Before he delivered his second pitch, Ramirez peeled back for a pickoff attempt and caught Hicks off-base. In a 3-and-2 count, Ramirez spun a 90-mph slider onto the outside edge of the strike zone. Judge swung and missed, but catcher Martin Maldonado missed it, too, and Judge reached first.
Matt Holliday tapped the next pitch to third base, where Yunel Escobar fielded it cleanly but threw the ball into the photographers’ well. With runners on third and second, Maldonado visited Ramirez on the mound, and chants of, “Let’s go, Yankees!” became audible.
Ramirez struck out Starlin Castro on a far-out slider to end the inning. He cruised through the next two innings on three groundouts, a popout, a strikeout, and a deep fly to the center-field warning track.
In the fourth, the Yankees began to strike the ball with force. Judge stroked a line drive to right field, where Calhoun dove to reach it. Holliday lined a ball to Simmons at shortstop. He caught it, too. Castro walked on four pitches before Gary Sanchez grounded out.
In the fifth, Chase Headley shot a ground-rule double to right and scored on a Gardner single. That tied the game, 1-1. To begin the sixth, Ramirez walked Judge after losing out a borderline 2-and-2 pitch. He worked around it and retired the first man he faced in the seventh.
Then, Headley slammed a 435-foot solo shot to right-center. Ramirez remained in the game, pushing past his career-high pitch count of 99 all the way to 111. When he walked Hicks, Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought in right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, who struck Judge out on an outside pitch.
Ramirez believed Tuesday to be his best performance of his nascent career as a starting pitcher, which spans one dozen outings. He struck out seven over his 6 2/3 innings. But he admitted to concern about the exertion required.
Petit pitched a perfect eighth. Closer Bud Norris handled the ninth, let a man into scoring position, and battled Gardner to 10 pitches before the Yankee left fielder lined out to right. Mike Morin, called up earlier in the day, pitched the 10th and part of the 11th. He loaded the bases with one out before giving way to rookie Keynan Middleton, who induced two quick pop-ups.
Middleton, 23, pitched on Sunday and Monday, and he had never before pitched on three consecutive days. But he insisted to Scioscia he was fit to pitch.
In the first inning against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, Kole Calhoun drew a four-pitch walk and Escobar doubled into the left-center gap. Angels third-base coach Ron Roenicke signaled late to Calhoun to try for home, and a well-executed New York relay had him out by several feet.
The Angels did not score until the fourth inning, when Chris Carter dropped a routine throw from his shortstop to allow Andrelton Simmons to reach second base on a grounder. C.J. Cron soon roped a run-scoring single into left field. Sabathia exited after the inning, having strained his left hamstring amid the stressful frame. Yankees manager Joe Girardi went on to call upon six relievers, but not his best pitcher, closer Dellin Betances.
Early in the game, the Angels twice berated home-plate umpire Rob Drake. Both Danny Espinosa and Albert Pujols voiced concerns to Drake after he called them out on borderline strikes. Scioscia emerged from the dugout when it looked like Espinosa might be ejected, and guided his second baseman back inside.
In the middle of the fifth inning, Scioscia walked to Drake, and the umpire accompanied the manager back to the Angels’ dugout, where he spoke to Pujols, animatedly, for nearly a minute.
Shortly thereafter, Espinosa was again called out on strikes. The count had been 3-and-2, so he flung his bat and headed to first before Drake made his decision. Espinosa reversed course and said nothing as he walked off the field.
The Angels (34-34) are surviving without Trout, finding wins from unlikely sources and in unlikely fashions. They are 11-0 on Tuesdays, a factoid that has seeped its way into the clubhouse, where it has generated entertainment.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura