Bench shows mettle in cardiac comeback
NEW YORK -- The Angels were down by seven when they finished batting in the top of the eighth at Yankee Stadium on Friday night, so Mike Scioscia did what any reasonable manager would: He removed his top three hitters -- Erick Aybar, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols -- and waited out the inevitable loss.
Then the Angels got two straight batters on to start the top of the ninth. Then a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, an eighth. And suddenly there was Kirk Nieuwenhuis, batting with the bases loaded and none out, with the tying run on second and the go-ahead run at first.
"Man," second baseman Johnny Giavotella thought, "this is right at our fingertips."
Oh, what could've been.
Had the Angels completed their improbable ninth-inning comeback, it would've tied the club record from Aug. 29, 1986, when they plated eight runs to somehow defeat the Tigers by one. But the Yankees' devastating setup man, Dellin Betances, retired the next three batters and the Angels lost, 8-7.
"Our bench was alive," Scioscia said. "Just good baseball. We got close, made them use some of their pitching, which is a plus. But man, that ninth inning was fun. Unfortunately, we just couldn't push it across a little more."
The fact the inning began with Esmil Rogers, a mop-up reliever with a 4.94 ERA, tells you all you need to know about the mindset heading into the top of the ninth.
Giavotella started it with a single up the middle and Taylor Featherston hit a line-drive double off the left-field wall, just his second hit in his first 30 Major League at-bats. Grant Green followed with a pop-up to the right side, but first baseman Chase Headley and second baseman Jose Pirela miscommunicated, allowing the ball to fall and a run to score.
Efren Navarro walked behind Green and Kole Calhoun followed with an RBI single, prompting Yankees manager Joe Girardi to call for Betances, his closer on a night when lefty Andrew Miller was basically unavailable. David Freese promptly smacked a two-run single, Matt Joyce and Chris Iannetta drew back-to-back walks, and suddenly the Angels -- 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position over their previous 17 innings -- were in business.
"It was awesome to see us battle back and put together quality at-bats, even when the game seemed out of hand," Giavotella said. "I was proud to see the team come through like that. Unfortunately, we fell one run short."
Carlos Perez began the ninth with his turf shoes on. He thought he'd pinch-hit in the sixth, an inning that saw the Angels score just once despite drawing four walks. But the opportunity never came, so the 24-year-old catcher figured he was done for the night.
When the Yankees went to their second reliever, though, Perez got anxious. He put on his cleats, took some swings in the indoor batting cage while Nieuwenhuis struck out and Giavotella hit a fielder's-choice groundout, plating only one run thanks to a sprawling catch by shortstop Didi Gregorius.
With runners on the corners, two outs, the Angels trailing by only one and Featherston due up again, Scioscia went to Perez.
"We all felt Carlos had a chance to put it in play, find a hole," Scioscia said. "Taylor had a good at-bat in the ninth inning, but hasn't been getting regular at-bats. We felt Carlos would be a better matchup."
Perez kept waiting for the fastball that didn't come. Betances threw him five consecutive slurves (PITCHf/x calls it a knuckle curve, but Betances himself calls it a slurve). When the fifth one came, Perez was way out in front and he swung right through it.
The seven-run comeback ended 90 feet short.
"I was ready, I was focused, but he threw an amazing pitch," Perez said of Betances, who was charged with his first earned run in 27 appearances. "It would've been cool to see us finish it."