Angels formulate unusual defensive alignment
Aybar's absence at shortstop forces adjustments in ninth inning
KANSAS CITY -- Erick Aybar was unavailable because of stiffness in his lower back and his replacement at shortstop, Taylor Featherston, was being taken out of the game in favor of pinch-hitter C.J. Cron.
It was time for Angels bench coach Dino Ebel to get creative.
He moved first baseman Albert Pujols to third, second baseman Johnny Giavotella to short, third baseman Connor Gillaspie to second and right fielder Kole Calhoun to first base, then watched one of the strangest infields ever deployed in action in Thursday night's 7-6 win over the Royals.
"They were fired up," Ebel said. "Guys get fired up when games are on the line. You tie, you take the lead, and now all of a sudden it's go out and win a game, and that's what they did."
The Angels still trailed by two when manager Mike Scioscia made the bold move to pull Featherston -- batting .126 -- for Cron with two on and none out in the top of the ninth. But Cron laced a game-tying double to right field, Giavotella reached on a bunt single and Calhoun laced another double to right field to give the Angels their first lead.
Closer Huston Street came out for the save chance in the bottom of the ninth and had one thought: "Get a lot of grounders."
Street only got one, a slow roller to the right side by speedster Jarrod Dyson. Calhoun scooped it up and tagged him quickly. Then came a flyout by Lorenzo Cain, a solo homer by Eric Hosmer, a single by Kendrys Morales, a walk by Mike Moustakas and a game-ending flyout by Alex Rios.
The Angels' makeshift infield had survived.
"It's about winning," Pujols said, "and whatever it takes to win."
Pujols frequently takes grounders at shortstop and told Ebel in the batting cage pregame that he could play there if needed.
"No chance," Ebel told him.
Instead, Pujols played third base, a position where he's spent 780 career innings, but only six since 2012. Giavotella played short for the first time in his professional career, Gillaspie played second for the first time in his career and Calhoun -- listed at 5-foot-10 -- played first base for the ninth time in the Majors.
Said Scioscia: "That was the best we came up with."
"That's the beauty of a game like that," Street said.