Patrick Sandoval flirts with no-hitter in Angels’ win as his transformation continues
Patrick Sandoval softly smiled and waved his glove, his forceful stare and heavy breaths suddenly replaced by a soft chuckle and reluctant peace.
The last two years, the Angels left-handed pitcher struggled in abbreviated big league stints. This year, he began the season at the club’s alternate training site. But over the last two months, the 24-year-old has experienced a career transformation.
And on Saturday night, he found himself on the precipice of history.
Sandoval, a Mission Viejo native, carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins, racking up 13 strikeouts while trying to throw just the 10th individual no-hitter in team history.
But with one out in the final inning, Twins designated hitter Brent Rooker broke it up, slicing a first-pitch slider the other way for a double down the right-field line.
As the ball floated beyond the infield and landed just inside the chalk, Sandoval snapped his head back in disappointment but then relented with a lighthearted grin, the totality of his landmark night — and the latest step in his breakthrough season — immediately beginning to set in.
“It’s not even something I’ve dreamt of. That was just insane,” Sandoval said of the near no-hitter. “To be able to actually be in there, to go into the ninth inning with two outs to get, it was pretty surreal.”
Iglesias pointed to the sky in celebration of his 21st save. But it was Sandoval, from the postgame handshake line to the video news conference afterward, who was the center of attention.
“He was just magnificent,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “You could see that from early on.”
Indeed, through the first eighth innings, Sandoval never really came close to giving up a hit.
Highlights from the Angels’ 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night in Minneapolis.
He retired the side in order in the first and third innings and worked around a walk in the second and hit batter in the fourth.
He was aware of the Twins’ hit total from the start — “I looked up at the scoreboard after every inning, I knew what was happening,” he said — but didn’t begin to truly notice the significance of the moment until teammates stopped coming near him in the dugout, leaving him all alone at the far end of the bench.
“As the game went on, everyone in the dugout just got further and further away,” he said with a laugh, adding: “All of a sudden, I got shunned.”
His best inning was perhaps the fifth, as shortstop José Iglesias committed a throwing error in the opening at-bat and Sandoval immediately answered with three straight strikeouts — blowing a fastball by Ryan Jeffers, spinning a slider to freeze Trevor Larnach and battling back from a 3-and-0 hole against Gilberto Celestino to end the inning with a swing-and-miss changeup.
For Maddon, it was the clearest sign of Sandoval’s growth over the last several seasons, from an inconsistent pitcher prone to frustration into a confident hurler who calmly handled the biggest moment of his career.
“He kept his composure and came back and made really good pitches,” Maddon said. “That stood out to me. … He did everything right.”
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Those kinds of moments have come in abundance this year for Sandoval, who originally was drafted by the Houston Astros in 2015 before being traded to the Angels three years ago for Martín Maldonado.
After posting a 1-9 record and 5.33 ERA over his first two seasons, he pitched well in spring training, was called up in early May and, after making his first start May 17, has remained in the rotation ever since.
At first, he was starting in place of an injured Alex Cobb. On May 27, he made a spot start in Oakland on the day Shohei Ohtani was late to the game after taking the BART transportation system. Then, after continuing to pitch well while José Quintana was hurt, Sandoval became a full-time rotation member last month — Quintana has since moved to the bullpen — and has looked more comfortable with each appearance, lowering his ERA to 3.52 on Saturday.
In the game against Oakland, for which he had only a couple hours to prepare following Ohtani’s transportation issues, he pitched five scoreless innings.
In his next game, Sandoval induced what was then an MLB season-high 32 swings-and-misses against the Seattle Mariners over six innings.
During the Angels’ six-game winning streak in June, he had a tradition of delivering the scorecard to umpires at home plate before first pitch — including in a game in which he pitched six innings and gave up two runs.
And only once has he given up more than three runs in a start — surrendering four earned and six total to the Mariners last week while still managing to complete seven innings.
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Maddon referred back to that outing Saturday, calling Sandoval’s ability to work deep after a couple bumpy early innings a growth moment in his ever-auspicious development.
“That’s part of why he was able to do what he did today. ... If you want a young pitcher to develop mentally — I’m not even talking physically, but mentally — you’ve got to let him out there for a bit,” Maddon said. “That’s what I think was a residue from his last time out. He keeps getting better. And I know his confidence is sky high.”
It looked that way as the pressure mounted in the final four innings Saturday, as Sandoval kept on cruising while finding improved feel with his slider to mix with a devastating trademark changeup.
He didn’t allow a baserunner in the sixth or the seventh. In the eighth, he stranded his second hit batter with his 11th and 12th strikeouts, passing his career high of 10.
“Tonight was just big, reinforcing all the work I’ve done with [pitching coaches] Matt Wise and Dom Chiti in the bullpen, almost every other day just working on my delivery,” Sandoval said. “Today, you saw it come to fruition with all that work. That’s what it’s supposed to look like every time I go out there.”
He added: “I felt really good out there, just crisp and in sync with my delivery. That was the key as the game went on. I didn’t try too hard or try to do too much.”
The double by Rooker, a rookie outfielder with nine career hits who had been recalled a day earlier after the Twins traded star slugger Nelson Cruz, was one of Sandoval’s few bad pitches, a slider that stayed over the middle of the plate.
Rooker didn’t make great contact, the ball leaving his bat at only 79.3 mph, but it found an open spot of grass anyway.
“Guys in the dugout were saying it didn’t really look like he knew where it went,” Sandoval said. “Obviously, it made me a little bit more bummed about it. Just one pitch that got away.”
Sandoval wanted to stay in and complete the ninth, but Maddon went with Iglesias — who had been warming up since the start of the inning — two batters later to set up a couple righty-righty matchups against the heart of the Twins’ order.
“He knew I didn’t want to come out,” Sandoval said. “He felt bad taking me out, it looked like. But … I’m all right. We got the win. That’s all that matters.”
And when he walked off the mound for the final time, Sandoval was met with a standing ovation from the opposing crowd — proper recognition of his best big league night.
“This is just the beginning. It’s not the finished product,” Maddon said, adding: “He’ll be back in that situation again someday. When he gets everything going on like he had tonight, you can see more of that.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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