The text messages and phone calls from well-wishers, along with the ticket requests, began pouring in on Tuesday, when word got out that Matt Shoemaker, who grew up in Trenton, Mich., about 20 miles outside of Detroit, would be pitching for the Angels in Comerica Park on Thursday.
By the time Shoemaker took the mound against the Detroit Tigers, the team he grew up rooting for, there were 50 to 60 family members and friends, including his parents, wife and 7-month-old son, among the crowd of 36,198.
Shoemaker, who also played at Eastern Michigan University, heard their cheers when he took the mound and acknowledged them with a wave when he left the game with one out in the eighth inning.
In between, he did not disappoint. Shoemaker was crowned homecoming king, giving up one hit in 7 1/3 innings, striking out five and walking one, to lead the Angels to a 2-0 victory in his first big league game in Comerica Park.
"It's incredibly special," said Shoemaker, who was called up from triple A this week after a brief demotion. "Having tons of family and friends here, getting a win for this club in a tight playoff race, it means a lot."
The right-hander thought it would be difficult to focus with the distractions, "but it was actually pretty easy," he said. "There's something about getting on that rubber that locks you in with your catcher."
Shoemaker did not allow a runner to reach second. He faced the minimum 22 batters because the only Tiger to reach — Anthony Gose — was picked off first by catcher Carlos Perez after a third-inning single and thrown out on a stolen-base attempt after a sixth-inning walk.
"It was amazing, a lifetime dream, to watch Matt pitch in Comerica Park, in his hometown, against his favorite team growing up," said David Shoemaker, Matt's father. "He greatly exceeded my expectations. I was hoping he would pitch well, but he was almost perfect. He was in complete control the whole game."
This looked nothing like the Shoemaker who was demoted to Salt Lake on Aug. 16 after getting rocked for 13 earned runs and 16 hits in 7 1/3 innings of losses to the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals.
Shoemaker, who finished second in American League rookie-of-the-year voting last season, clearly ironed out some mechanical issues in two bullpen sessions and his one triple-A start, when he gave up no earned runs in six innings Saturday.
"That's as good as it gets from Matt," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's a tough lineup to get through. You can't say enough about the adjustments he made. You saw great fastball command, a good slider, and he used his split when he needed it. He wasn't in too many bad counts."
Shoemaker gave credit to Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher and triple-A pitching coach Erik Bennett, who worked with him over the last two weeks.
"We tried to hone in on a couple of little things," Shoemaker said. "This is a game of inches, millimeters. Mechanically, just getting my body where it needs to be, the right positioning with your upper and lower half … when your timing is right, it's definitely different."
Shoemaker threw an inning in Comerica Park in a high school all-star game, but he was not a highly touted prospect. He was not drafted out of Eastern Michigan; he signed with the Angels as a free agent in 2008 and spent five full years in the minor leagues before his breakthrough 2014 season.
"They all knew I wanted to [pitch in the big leagues], but a lot of people didn't necessarily think I'd do it," Shoemaker, 28, said. "That's why it's special to do this here. It's kind of where it all started."
Left-hander Andrew Heaney (5-2, 3.39 ERA) will oppose Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar (11-7, 3.30) at Progressive Field on Friday at 4 p.m. PDT. TV: FS West; Radio: 830, 1330.