For years, Patrick Sandoval had dreamed of stepping on the mound at Minute Maid Park in an Astros uniform. He was a promising left-handed pitcher in their loaded minor league system. It was not a far-fetched idea.
Then the business of baseball caught up to him.
A little more than a year ago, Sandoval received news the Angels had dealt Gold Glove catcher Martin Maldonado to Houston before the July 2018 trade deadline. Sandoval, who starred at Mission Viejo High, was the Angels’ sole return.
He had grown up attending games at Angel Stadium before signing with the Astros, who selected him in the 11th round of the 2015 draft and gave him a $900,000 bonus. He idolized Albert Pujols as a child.
Sandoval was stunned that he would have a chance to pitch for his hometown team. His dreams shifted accordingly.
When injuries to Griffin Canning and Felix Pena left holes in the Angels’ battered starting rotation, Sandoval’s aspiration became reality.
A dual opportunity emerged: Not only would Sandoval play in the major leagues at 22, but he would also get a chance to pitch against the team that shipped him away.
“Very excited to pitch on that mound,” he said last week. “Obviously my plan when I got drafted was to pitch there for the Astros, but I can’t. It’s even bigger that it’s with the Angels, too, my hometown team. It’s gonna be wild.
“I want to prove to them that they made a mistake.”
In a sense, he made his case when he started for the Angels on Saturday in Houston. He wobbled in an 8-4 win, which was keyed by David Fletcher’s three hits and two RBIs, Pujols’ RBI double and Kole Calhoun’s late two-run homer. But the quality that has helped Sandoval become the most surprising — and reassuring — development of the Angels’ late-season breakdown appeared at a critical juncture.
Despite being thrust unexpectedly into the limelight, Sandoval has not seemed to be intimidated by pitching in the major leagues.
“You can tell when he’s on the mound he has this fire in him,” manager Brad Ausmus said recently. “He just wants to get the hitter out, which is tough to teach.”
That preternatural composure has allowed Sandoval to keep opponents from mounting roaring rallies.
Not once in nine outings — the latest of which have been shortened because of pitch-count limitations — has an opponent scored more than four runs against him.
Not even one of the American League’s deepest lineups could change that. After AL rookie of the year award contender Yordan Alvarez led off the second inning with a homer to cut Houston’s deficit to 4-1 and the next three Astros reached base, Sandoval finessed his way out of trouble.
He exchanged a run for a ground-ball out, perfectly fielded a one-out bunt and struck out George Springer to strand a runner on third. Fan interference on Kyle Tucker’s no-out, run-scoring double also helped his cause.
The Astros (101-54) sent seven men to bat in the inning but Sandoval still escaped the inning — and eventually the night — with only three runs charged to him over three innings. He pitched a quick third inning with an assist from second baseman Fletcher, who dived to his right to steal a hit from Alvarez and started a spectacular inning-ending double play by flipping the ball with his glove to shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
One frustrating inning notwithstanding, Sandoval pitched well enough to help the Angels (70-85) spoil the Astros’ hopes of clinching their third straight AL West division crown with a win.
“Being on the mound and being here, knowing that I could have pitched on that mound but they traded me away” was tough, Sandoval said. “I’m here now, which I’m grateful for, but just a little bit of that ‘I wanted this’ [attitude]. I think that amplified my emotions out there.”