On the day the Angels reached .500 for the first time in more than two months, starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs walked into the Rogers Centre visitors dugout after the sixth inning of an eventual 3-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night in a huff.
Skaggs had just thrown his hardest pitch of the season, a 95-mph fastball, to the outer edge of the strike zone. Blue Jays rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t catch up to it and struck out, marking the fourth straight hitter Skaggs had retired since the defense bailed him out of a jam an inning earlier. Skaggs had thrown only 72 pitches and scattered three hits. His curveball was coming out of his left hand sharper than it had all season. The deeper into the game he got, the more he resembled the pitcher who carried a 2.64 earned-run average through his first 16 starts a year ago.
Yet there was reliever Cam Bedrosian, warming in the Angels bullpen as Skaggs began his attack on the top of Toronto’s batting order for the third time.
Three outs later, Skaggs approached manager Brad Ausmus.
“Why is someone warming up?” Skaggs asked Ausmus. “This is my game. That shouldn’t happen.
“Hang up the phone.”
Ausmus was just guarding against the possibility of Skaggs allowing two hitters to reach base in what was then a one-run game. Bedrosian, the freshest arm in the bullpen and one of the team’s best relievers, could have doused a fire if right-handed hitters came to the plate representing the go-ahead run.
But Bedrosian never entered the game. Skaggs faced another four batters and retired them all on 15 pitches. By the time Skaggs struck out Rowdy Tellez to end his outing, rookie Ty Buttrey needed to get only two outs in the eighth inning before turning it over to Hansel Robles for the save.
Skaggs’ 7 1/3-inning outing was both the longest and best an Angels pitcher had assembled all season. The left-hander struck out six, gave up one home run on a changeup that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. lifted over the left-field wall and issued no walks for the first time since April 12. His performance allowed the Angels to even their record at 37-37, good enough to climb to three games out of second place in the American League wild-card race.
“I’m happy we got to .500,” Skaggs said. “That’s a huge hurdle for this team, and we can keep rolling.”
The victory would have been harder to come by without the aid of two key fifth-inning plays. Right fielder Kole Calhoun, who homered for a second straight game in the top of the inning to erase a 1-0 deficit, snagged Tellez’s single and threw out Randal Grichuk trying to advance to third. Two batters later, shortstop Luis Rengifo lunged to his right to glove a line drive, then tossed the ball to second base to catch Tellez off the bag and end the Blue Jays’ threat.
Skaggs didn’t allow a runner after that. His velocity kept humming around his standard 92 mph. He continued to throw his changeup and curveball to both sides of the plate.
When he finally relinquished the mound with one out in the eighth inning, Skaggs’ season ERA still hovered over 4.50. But what he accomplished Tuesday was enough to provide encouragement. His momentary displeasure over Bedrosian warming up was long forgotten.
“Usually this time of year everyone is starting to feel like they have midseason form,” Skaggs said, “so I’m feeling pretty good.”