The first two games of the long, winding road called the MLB regular season were a tough pill to swallow. The Angels and their fans were primed for some marquee matchup baseball against the Cubs, but it ended up being a NO FUN, disastrous affair that saw the pitching struggle at times and the offense struggle most of the times. Basically, there were a lot of struggling times, let’s just put it that way.
So it was with both nervousness and excitement that the team welcomed the rival Texas Rangers into their home today; a series against a more familiar squad, not so much a juggernaut. A team and a starting pitcher that could be hacked and slashed, and could give the Angels their first decent chance at victory. Unfortunately, the Rangers wouldn’t make it easy, but the Angels didn’t make it easy on themselves, either.
Hector Santiago was on the bump tonight, the first time he’s started in this young season, and while things started off a little too similar to what we saw against the Cubs, he would end up finishing rather strong. In the first, Prince Fielder got the Rangers ahead early with a sac fly. Then, in the third, Robinson Chirinos cracked a hard-hit home run to the Trout Farm, putting the Angels in a two-run hole and the collective brows of Angels fans everywhere were beading up with anxious sweat.
After those first three sides, however, Hector really settled down and began to ease through the Texas lineup. He was imposing his will, using his off-speed stuff alongside his fastball, which averaged a few miles more per hour than last year, surprisingly(91-92mph to 93-94mph). The dude was looking really, really good...now they just needed runs.
Yunel Escobar didn’t look so hot in his first at-bat against Rangers starter Derek Holland, but in his bottom of the third, he kick-started an offensive night the Angels(and their fans) needed desperately. Escobar got a changeup that he sent screaming into the bleachers behind the bullpen, and put the Angels on the board. It was not only Escobar’s first home run as an Angel, but as you probably know, it was the first Angels home run of the 2016 season, period. After three innings, the Angels were down 2-1. Something was cooking.
Escobar wasn’t done, though. The Angels managed to mount a two-out rally in the fifth that broke the game open, and Escobar had one of the HUGE hits. It all got started when Kole Calhoun and Geovany Soto both drew walks from Holland, and then big, beautiful Escobar came to the plate. He only needed to see two pitches, because on the second one he hit a single to right field and drove home Calhoun, tying up the game at 2-2.
But the hits just kept coming, in the form of a double down the right field line from Craig Gentry; the man, the myth, the platoon member. So some quick strikes from some new faces, and all of a sudden, with two outs, the Angels mounted a nice two-run surge and took a 3-2 lead. Like Escobar’s homer, this lead was the first for the Halos in 2016. All of a sudden, FUN baseball was back.
Hector Santiago finally hit the skids a bit in the seventh inning, when he allowed men on the corners and no outs. He was lifted for Jose Alvarez, mainly so he could face a lefty, which Alvarez handled easily. Alvarez was subbed for Fernando Salas, and well...Salas stuff happened. He gave up a sac fly to Elvis Andrus and the game was tied back at 3-3.
Joe Smith did his job in the 8th, holding the Rangers steady and setting the table for some late game heroics. The only question now was which team would be performing said heroics. The Angels sure had a beautiful chance in the bottom of the side, but instead performed their first big buttercupping of the season. With a couple lucky bloops, including one from Albert Pujols that landed in the infield, the Halos got the bases loaded and NO OUTS, yet they let Texas off the hook. The dagger was a GIDP from Andrelton Simmons. It was an epic bummer;; the Big A had suddenly been alive for the first time, bouncing with loud, rambunctious energy. But as quickly as that fever came on, it was one.
If they wanted to pull this one out, it was going to be via walk-off.
The ninth saw Huston Street come in and do Huston Street things i.e. getting batters out, with minimal heart attacks or scary moments. We moved to the bottom of the ninth, that ethereal baseball space where magical things happen, with the potential for the joy of a hard-won victory along with the satisfaction of it’s efficiency in avoiding the need for extra innings of baseballs.
We were practically begging for some of that magic tonight, at home, at the game, in the car, wherever. And El Hombre himself, Albert Pujols, gave us all that and more.
Johnny Giavotella got the bottom of the 9th started with a single, and then Yunel Escobar followed with a walk. Both batters were moved over by pinch hitter Carlos Perez, and with first base open, the Rangers made the dire mistake(tonight at least) of walking Trout to get to Pujols. Not so fast, Rangers. Pujols pulled a rabbit out of his hat, in the form of an absolute rocket to the power alley in left-center, scoring Giavotella and giving the Angels their first win of 2016.
A huge night from Escobar and Gentry, a sterling performance from Hector Santiago, and a crushing death blow delivered in the ninth, with everything on the line, from old man Albert Pujols. We needed this game, and we got it; right now, nobody has it better than us. Forget those games against Chicago. BASEBALL SEASON STARTS NOW.