The Angels and New York Yankees played before a lively allotment of fans at Angel Stadium on Wednesday, the sold-out crowd split between the two teams, every play eliciting cheers from one side or the other. In a season most often played before quiet crowds and heaps of empty seats, it stood out.
"Whenever it gets louder, I feel like they're cheering for me," said Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who hit the winning home run. "It's nice to see the stadium pretty full, though."
On an electric evening in Orange County, the Angels came back from a four-run deficit to defeat the Yankees, 7-5. But like so much of the team's season, the good news was shrouded in bad: Starter Matt Shoemaker exited because of an arm injury.
Shoemaker's fastball hummed from 92 to 94 mph in the first inning. After he took the mound for the second, his velocity dropped precipitously. Over the next three innings, he threw his fastball sparingly, and it averaged 89 mph never surpassing 91. Sudden velocity drops are common in the case of arm injuries.
"I didn't know what was going on, I just knew it felt tight," Shoemaker said. "But I knew my fastball was coming out a little bit different, I could just tell."
Once the Yankees' Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius hit back-to-back singles to begin the fourth, Angels athletic trainer Eric Munson visited the mound. He spoke to Shoemaker for about a minute, the pitcher making his case to stay in the game, before the two walked off together. The Angels later announced that Shoemaker experienced tightness in the extensor muscle of his right forearm. Forearm injuries are often connected to elbow injuries, but Shoemaker said a team doctor informed him his was unrelated to his elbow
Shoemaker told the team of the tightness after his last start, received treatment, and found that it went away. He said he was unaware of plans to have an MRI exam; Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he did not believe one was planned.
"I'm just really annoyed and frustrated by it, because I wanted to go out and pitch and help our team win," Shoemaker said. "I'm not really concerned about it at all, but I know we're gonna see the next couple days how it feels, how it reacts, which hopefully should be fine."
For Shoemaker, the night's challenges began early. Brett Gardner began the game with a single through to left field. He took third when Aaron Judge ripped a single to left, and scored when Matt Holliday boomed a sacrifice fly to the warning track in center field.
Next, Shoemaker drilled Starlin Castro in the left hand, earning a visit from pitching coach Charles Nagy. Sanchez, last year's rookie sensation, came up and smashed a 441-foot, three-run blast to left field. Shoemaker held up his glove to receive a new ball before the last ball cleared the fence. The Yankees led, 4-0, but wouldn't score again while Shoemaker was on the mound.
The Angels began to chip away in the bottom of the inning. Cameron Maybin tapped an infield single to third base before Albert Pujols and Yunel Escobar rapped singles into the outfield. Up next, Luis Valbuena clobbered a ball to center, but Aaron Hicks reached over the wall and came down with it, saving a grand slam.
One run scored on the sacrifice fly, and two runs scored on Danny Espinosa's second-inning homer. Yankees starter Michael Pineda threw him a first-pitch fastball down the middle, and Espinosa timed it to right field.
The Angels rallied for two more in the third. Pujols singled into left, took second on an Escobar groundout, third on a Valbuena groundout, and home on a wild pitch. Simmons walked, went to second on that errant pitch, and scored when Eric Young Jr. poked a single into left.
The Angels replaced Shoemaker with right-hander Parker Bridwell, who was called up earlier in the day and demoted immediately afterward. He quickly induced a grounder from Chase Headley that hit Gregorius in the legs, thus registering as an out. Next, Orange County native Rob Refsnyder lined a ball right to Espinosa, who stepped on second base to complete the inning-ending double play.
In the fifth, Bridwell quickly retired two Yankees before Escobar threw away Judge's grounder, allowing the rookie to reach. After a Holliday single, Castro knocked another single into left field. Young delivered an accurate throw to backup catcher Juan Graterol, who tagged out Judge. As he ran off the field, Young held up three fingers on his right hand, in honor of his late son, Eric Young III, who died just after his birth in January.
In the sixth, Bridwell found trouble. Sanchez dribbled a single back to him, and he threw errantly to first base, putting Sanchez on second. With one out, Headley singled into center to score Sanchez and tie the score.
Bridwell found more trouble in the seventh, but escaped it because of Young. Gardner and Hicks singled within the infield. Judge stroked a sinking liner to left, where Young slid to corral it. Holliday popped out, and right-hander Blake Parker entered to face Castro. He struck him out and handled the eighth inning without issue.
Valbuena drew a two-out walk in the seventh against New York reliever Ronald Herrera, who was making his major league debut. Simmons stepped up, swung at the first pitch, and hammered a two-run home run to left field. His follow-through led his right knee and right arm to the dirt, a rarely executed maneuver made famous by Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre. At that, Simmons flipped his bat in dramatic fashion.
"The videos I watch from Beltre kind of helped," Simmons said. "I was on it the whole way. It kept going lower. I didn't want to pull off."
With closer Bud Norris unavailable after appearing on three consecutive days, David Hernandez pitched the ninth. The Angels celebrated victory before an umpire review found that Kole Calhoun's game-ending catch of Hicks' drive to the right-field wall was invalid. A segment of the ball apparently contacted the wall before Calhoun's glove. So, to the club's surprise, the game continued and Aaron Judge approached as the potential tying run.
He grounded out to third base. There was no error on the play. The Angels (35-34) ascended above .500 for the first time in three weeks, and they hoped their pitcher would be OK.
"I'm gonna come in tomorrow, do treatment on it, check it out, see what's going on," Shoemaker said. "If it's good, go to the next day, and be on track. If not, then I don't know. We'll see."