The Los Angeles Angels guaranteed a series win against Seattle on Saturday, riding a strong outing from Ervin Santana (!!) and a 2-run single from Mark Trumbo in the 8th inning to beat Felix Hernandez and the Mariners 5-2.
Though he’s struggled against the Angels this season (6.23 ERA in 2 outings), Hernandez entered the game as a Cy Young favorite, leading the AL in innings pitched and ERA. His August was especially impressive as King Felix limited opponents to a 1.08 ERA and just 5 walks in 5 starts. Fox broadcasters Dave Simms and the Angels’ own Mark Gubicza tried with dubious rationale to connect the careers of Hernandez and Santana by noting how King Felix threw a perfect game and Ervin tossed a no-hitter, but for one afternoon, Black Magic had the King beat.
In the opening frame, Santana retired the Mariners in order and looked perfectly content to use his, you know, talent, to, you know, pitch effectively. Two more K’s in a clean 2nd set the tone for the rest of the game, a performance he deviated from only once. In Seattle’s 3rd, No. 8 hitter Trayvon Robinson ended Santana’s brief dance with perfection with a home run just over the RF wall, the league-lead-tying 32nd bomb Ervin’s allowed this year. Santana briefly unraveled from there, walking Dustin Ackley and allowing an RBI double down the left field line to Franklin Gutierrez before the BAbip fairy blessed him with a sharp Kyle Seager line-out to end the inning.
In the 4th, Mark Trumbo reached on a fielder’s choice and Howie Kendrick walked to put two on with one out for Erick Aybar. It looked to be a rare opportunity to hit with Hernandez on the ropes but Erick Aybar halted the attack by going down swinging on a 2-2 changeup down and away. Returning to his near-perpetual command, Hernandez got Alberto Callaspo looking to throw Simms and the Safeco Field King’s Court into a loud ecstasy.
Santana bounced back in the bottom of the 4th, retiring the side in order with two K’s to suggest an in-game ability to recover that hasn’t much been exhibited this season. Keeping the game within a run provided the Angels offense with the opportunity to respond in the 5th and they had the right men at the plate to mount an attack. Trout and Hunter knocked one-out singles to bring up Albert Pujols with another chance to knock in at least a run. And he…grounded into his 15th double play of the year, forcing Santana to pitch another inning from behind, a situation in which hitters came into the game slugging .498 off him. As scripted (by me in an article written with hindsight), Justin Smoak and his .191 batting average led off the 5th with a double. Briefly bailed out by Mike Trout as he closed in on Brendan Ryan’s gapper, Santana took responsibility for himself, striking out Dustin Ackley to end the inning and turn it over to the suddenly-dormant offense.
After both sides went down without incident, the Angels led off the 7th inning with the smallest of threats. Erick Aybar chopped a neat bunt single that Brendan Ryan wisely held onto. Ryan then made the play of the afternoon. With Aybar going on the pitch, Alberto Callaspo chopped one up the middle that Ryan scooped up. Tagging a sliding Aybar, he twisted his body to make an off-balance throw to first to nail Callapso and empty the bases for Chris Iannetta, who proceeded to ground out to, who else?, Brendan Ryan. The whole inning was a visual reminder of the value a premier defensive shortstop carries. Despite a 65 OPS+, Ryan owns a 2.6 WAR thanks to 20 defensive runs saved, a number he reaches annually.
The Angels returned to their 1st inning liveliness as Mike Trout led off the 8th with his 2nd opposite-field single of the game, granting the Angels some speed and promise as their remaining outs dwindled down. After Trout’s stolen base attempts were hindered by balls fouled off by Hunter, the top 2 in the Angels order did one better as Torii moved Mike to third with a single up the middle, his 3rd hit of the day and 13th in his last 4 games. The Angels tied the game when Pujols’ grounder to third found its way past Seager, who was charged with the error. After a Morales ground out, Mark Trumbo joined the hit parade with a base hit to left that scored Hunter and a limping Pujols, crossing the plate well ahead of Robinson’s weak throw home.
Trumbo’s base hit proved the knockout blow against Hernandez, who pitched well-enough to go 7 2/3 but once again fell short against his division rivals. Replacement Stephen Pryor didn’t change the pace, tossing a wild pitch and then giving up a double to Howie Kendrick that scored pinch runner Vernon Wells. A walk to Aybar (!!) and a passed ball on John Jaso put runners on 2nd and 3rd, but Pryor ceased the onslaught by inducing a Callaspo pop-up and making a fine play on an Iannetta comebacker. But after six sluggish and scoreless innings, the Angels’ offense seemed to acknowledge Santana’s performance by rising to his level and opening up a 3-run lead against a Seattle lineup that’s been feeble all season long.
Finished after 7, Santana ceded the game to the recently effective Kevin Jepsen (!!) who had his 12th scoreless outing in his last 13 appearances since his ERA hit 4.50 on August 1st. The ending felt inevitable by the time Ernesto Frieri took the mound in the 9th to close out the game. The Safeco shadows had created a disconcerting divide between the mound and the batter’s box and the crowd was silent as it watched Frieri pick up season strikeout numbers 68 and 69 as he finished up the game.
With the win the Angels move to 71-62 overall as they pick up a game on the Baltimore Orioles for the 2nd spot in the Wild Card. They look to close out the weekend tomorrow by sending out Jered Weaver (!!) to face Hisashi Iwakuma, carrying a 0.48 ERA in his last 3 starts. It’s a rare weekend that features the Angels’ ace looking to repeat Santana’s effort, but Jered would be well-advised to follow Ervin’s lead. Santana finished the afternoon with just 4 hits and 2 runs allowed in 7 innings, making Saturday’s start his sixth affair in a row with at least 6 innings thrown.