By Chad Stewart
After an 0-6 homestand, two ninth-inning comebacks and a dazzling start by Hector Santiago led the Angels to a sweep of the Seattle Mariners.
Seattle’s Nathan Karnes and the Angels’ Nick Tropeano squared off in the first game of the series on Friday. It was another typical start for Tropeano, allowing two runs on five hits and walking three in five innings. Karns was similarly effective, allowing three runs on six hits across 6 1/3 innings. Considering the workload they have been taking on, it was only a matter of time before the Angels’ bullpen had a rough stretch of games, and that happened this series. Lefty Jose Alvarez replaced Nick Tropeano to begin the sixth, and, with the bases loaded, he allowed a triple to Seattle shortstop Ketel Marte to extend Seattle’s lead to 5-1.
The Angels began their comeback with a pair of runs in the seventh, but Seattle’s Chris Iannetta homered in the home half of the inning to make the score 6-3. That didn’t halt the Angels’ comeback attempt, as they scored two more runs in the eighth to make it 6-5. Mariner’s closer Steve Cishek entered the game in the ninth having converted his first 11 save opportunities, but the Angels made him look far from perfect. Kole Calhoun singled, Mike Trout grounded into a fielder’s choice, Albert Pujols singled, and Daniel Nava walked, loading the bases with one out for C.J. Cron. Cron delivered with a weakly hit bloop single that dropped in between a triangle of fielders behind shortstop, allowing both Trout and pinch-runner Shane Robinson to score to give the Angels a 7-6 lead. Fernando Salas took care of the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth, and the Angels took game one.
Yunel Escobar did not play in Friday’s game because of the minor injury he sustained on Thursday, but his replacement was no slouch. Jefry Marte was recalled from Triple-A that day and went 2-for-4 with a clutch RBI double in the eighth that narrowed Seattle’s lead to 6-5.
Cron starred again, hitting a solo home run to go along with his game-winning single, and he is now hitting .429 with runners in scoring position. Every position player had a hit, and the Angels combined for 13 of them. It took everything they had, but the Angels’ Friday night win was one of their best this season. Although, it would be easily topped by their win the next night.
Newly-acquired Jhoulys Chacin started for the Angels on Saturday, and, aside from an Adam Lind 2-run homer in the second inning, he was terrific. Those runs were the only ones he gave up in seven strong innings, and he became just the third Angels starting pitcher to complete seven innings this season. Mariners’ starter Hishashi Iwakuma kept the Angels under control until the seventh inning. Nava broke up Iwakuma’s shutout in the sixth with a two-out RBI double. Then, Johnny Giavotella led off the seventh with a homer on the first pitch. Carlos Perez followed that with a double. He was moved to third with a sacrifice bunt from Gregorio Petit, and he scored on an Escobar single, which forced Seattle manager Scott Servais to replace Iwakuma with reliever Joel Peralta. On a 2-2 breaking ball, Calhoun crushed a two-run home run to left to give the Angels a 5-2 lead. They extended their lead when Trout ripped a solo shot to right to cap off a five-run inning.
Chacin pitched around a leadoff double in the seventh to complete another scoreless inning, and he was removed after just 90 pitches. Mike Morin began the eighth inning, and, after going 10 consecutive innings without allowing hit, coughed up the lead by giving up four runs and recording only one out. Salas gave up a run of his own, and the Mariners took a 7-6 lead into the ninth inning. Cishek was brought into the game for the second straight night, and, for the second straight night, blew a save. With one-out, Calhoun was hit by a pitch, and Trout singled to put two runners on for Pujols. Pujols proceeded to launch perhaps his most impactful home run as an Angel, a three-run bomb to left, and, after admiring his monster shot and flipping his bat to the side, he had given the Angels a 9-7 lead. Joe Smith easily dispatched of the top of the Mariners’ order, and the Angels won with their second consecutive ninth-inning comeback.
The Angels’ bullpen has thrown the fourth-most innings in the American League, and they have kept the Angels in so many games this year, so their poor performance in this series is somewhat excusable. Fortunately for them, they received a much-needed break on Sunday.
Hector Santiago’s previous three starts were rough, and, with Felix Hernandez on the mound for the Mariners, he had something to prove. Santiago was brilliant, throwing eight scoreless innings, walking one and striking out five. He didn’t allow a hit until the sixth, and it was a bunt single. He gave up a single in the seventh, and that was it; he did not allow a runner to reach second. Thanks to some great defensive plays he and Petit made, Santiago remained in control for all eight innings. Hernandez was his usual self, so Santiago only had a one-run lead to work with until the eighth inning. Hernandez was taken out of the game after walking Calhoun and allowing a single to Trout. Right-hander Nick Vincent was brought in to face Pujols, and got him to ground out to first, allowing Trout and Calhoun to advance to second and third, respectively. With the deuces wild, Nava grounded a clutch single just past Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager, allowing Calhoun and Trout to score and give the Angels two important insurance runs.
Santiago retired the Mariners in order in the bottom of the eighth, and Smith did the same in the ninth to secure the sweep.
If you hadn’t noticed by how often they were mentioned, Calhoun and Trout shined in this series. Calhoun went 5-for-9 with four RBI, three walks, and four runs scored. Trout went 5-for-12 with two RBI, two walks, and five runs scored. And, of course, they hit back-to-back home runs on Saturday. Calhoun is now hitting . 308 with three home runs, 20 RBI, and an .822 OPS on the season, and Trout is hitting .312 with eight home runs, 25 RBI, and a .951 OPS. Pujols continued to struggle, going 3-13 with three RBI on his three-run home run. In the first two games, however, he went 3-for-9, showing just how lethal the Angels’ lineup can be if those three are all producing.
The Angels are now 16-21 and 5.5 games back of the first-place Rangers.
The Angels begin the Freeway Series against the Dodgers on Monday night with two games in Los Angeles and two in Anaheim. The Dodgers lost yesterday, but they took two out of three from the Cardinals. They are currently a game back of first in the NL West at 20-18. The Angels will have to face Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday. Kershaw is 5-1 with a 1.74 ERA and has struck out 77 batters while walking four. Yes, four. That’s pretty good. He’ll take the mound opposite Jered Weaver (3-2, 6.10 ERA).
The Angels have scored 26 runs since Rally Cat II showed up in the fourth inning of Thursday’s game. Coincidence? I think not.