That Collin Cowgill hit a walk-off home run with two outs in the 14th inning to lift the Angels to a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night wasn’t all that surprising.
Despite his smallish 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame and limited big-league resume, the 28-year-old reserve outfielder has shown some legitimate pop this season, with five homers in 142 at-bats.
What was truly stunning about Cowgill’s low liner into the left-field bullpen off Jeff Francis was that he somehow found a way to get a ball past the Paul Bunyan-like figure in left field, the bionic-arm-yielding Yoenis Cespedes, whose near superhuman defensive exploits are becoming legendary.
“That was the only way we were going to score if we hit it to left field,” Cowgill said after the Angels extended their win streak to five and cut Oakland’s American League West lead to 2 1/2 games.
“Honestly, I was just hoping I got enough of it to get it over his head. He’s made some impressive plays against us. There’s no telling what that guy’s going to do in left field.”
That was never more true than in the eighth inning Tuesday night, when Cespedes, who threw out two Angels at the plate in the second inning of a May 31 game in Oakland, unleashed a throw that will be compared to some of the all-time great outfield plays.
With Howie Kendrick at first, Mike Trout’s one-hop double toward the line caromed off Cespedes’ glove and into the corner. Cespedes retrieved the ball near the foul pole and air-mailed a stunning, high-arcing throw of about 300 feet to catcher Derek Norris that nailed Kendrick at the plate and preserved a 1-1 tie.
“When the ball rolled into the corner, I thought Howie would score standing up,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Cespedes picked the ball up and threw a guided missile that was right on the money. It was just an incredible throw from that distance, from that angle, everything. That was a special play.”
The throw was reminiscent of former Pittsburgh Pirates star Dave Parker’s long throw from right field to gun down Brian Downing of the Angels at home in the 1979 All-Star game.
It also stirred memories of former Kansas City left fielder Bo Jackson’s long throw home to nail Seattle’s Harold Reynolds at the plate at the Kingdome in 1989, and some of Roberto Clemente’s throws from right field in Pittsburgh.
“If you hadn’t seen it, you probably wouldn’t have believed it,” A’s reliever Sean Doolittle said. “Flat-footed, he threw it 325 feet on the fly, right to DeNo’s chest.”
Angels third base coach Gary DiSarcina said he thought there might be a play at the plate but that Kendrick would score easily.
“You don’t see that kind of arm strength and accuracy from the foul pole,” DiSarcina said. “He just winged it.”
Said Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp: “It was an amazing throw.”
From that point, the game turned into a battle of the bullpens, which, somewhat surprisingly, the Angels won despite not having use of their closer, Ernesto Frieri, who threw in each of the previous four games.
Hector Santiago, in his first start back from triple-A Salt Lake, threw six shutout innings, allowing three hits, striking out eight and walking one. Mike Morin gave up the tying run in the eighth, but Kevin Jepsen, Joe Smith, Cam Bedrosian, Fernando Salas and Cory Rasmus combined for seven scoreless innings.
“These guys all came in and put up zeros and gave us a chance,” Scioscia said. “Oakland has a terrific bullpen, but our guys matched them pitch for pitch. Hopefully they’ll take a little confidence from this.”
The Angels, who at 36-28 are a season-high eight games over .500, won despite two costly mistakes on the bases. The first was by Albert Pujols, who ignored DiSarcina’s clear stop sign and tried to score from second with no outs on Josh Hamilton’s single to right-center in the sixth.
Trout, who was on third, scored on Hamilton’s hit, but the heavy legged Pujols was an easy out at home, with Brandon Moss, the A’s right fielder, picking up the assist. Instead of having runners at first and third with no outs, the Angels had a runner on first with one out. David Freese then grounded into a double play.
“He got a little aggressive -- that’s it,” Scioscia said of Pujols. “I think he thought the ball was in the gap and that he could score.”
Pujols opened the 11th with an infield single and took second on second baseman Nick Punto’s throwing error. Kole Calhoun came on to run for Pujols, and after Hamilton popped out to second, Calhoun was thrown out at third trying to advance on Freese’s grounder to the shortstop hole. Raul Ibanez popped out to end the inning.
“We were fortunate tonight,” Scioscia said. “We had opportunities and didn’t get it done. We played sloppy in some areas. But you couldn’t ask for a better pitched game from Hector Santiago and the whole bullpen. We kept playing baseball and got a big hit from Collin.”
There was a mixture of joy and relief on the Angels bench when Cowgill’s homer cleared the wall. Cespedes got back to the fence quickly and appeared to have a shot, but the ball was several feet over his head.
“The way he was playing tonight,” Scioscia said of Cespedes, “it would not have shocked me if he caught it.”