Wilson leaves it all on field in draining day
Angels starter spins 7 shutout innings to secure series
ANAHEIM -- C.J. Wilson's Saturday ended with a boisterous fist pump and a primal yell, an uncharacteristic reaction to fill-in first baseman Efren Navarro stabbing a line drive, completing an inning-ending double play and ensuring that the Angels' starter wouldn't allow a run in his seven-inning outing that night.
It was an emotionally draining day for Wilson. So emotional, in fact, that when the veteran left-hander finished the fifth, he took in an ammonia inhalant -- also known as smelling salts -- to clear some sinuses and find another gear.
"That kind of got me jazzed up," Wilson said after the Angels completed a 1-0 win over the A's. "I got a little bit more outwardly aggressive."
Wilson was hoping to get a little run support in the second of a three-game series, but all he got was an Albert Pujols solo home run. So with little margin for error, and 20 earned runs over his last 30 innings, he had to navigate through an A's lineup filled with hitters who were very familiar with his repertoire.
All while still recovering from an intense morning of HBO binge-watching.
"I watched the last episode of 'Game Of Thrones' today and I was really drained," Wilson said. "It was very up and down. I was very worried it wasn't going to turn out well for Daenerys Targaryen. My wife and I are big fans of her. Part of my routine is to spend time with the wife and the dogs. Usually it relaxes me, but today it was like, 'Oh man.'"
Wilson could relax by the time his night was finished. He had turned in one of his best starts of the season, giving up just two hits, walking three batters and striking out eight to capture his fourth win and drop his ERA to 3.60.
He stopped two hard comebackers, a Josh Phegley liner that somehow caught the outside of his glove and a Ben Zobrist hit he managed to barehand. And he got a huge lift from Navarro in the top of the seventh, with two on, one out and the Angels clinging to a one-run lead.
Stephen Vogt smoked a line drive down the first-base line, but Navarro -- starting in place of Pujols, who served as the designated hitter -- ranged to his left, made the catch and alertly threw to Erick Aybar at second to end the inning.
Wilson has a nickname for Navarro, like he does for most of his teammates -- "brown silk."
"He's so smooth and such a great fielder, I feel like he's going to catch everything," Wilson said. "So anytime there's a throw that might be a little low or whatever, I always feel like he's going to make the play. He makes it look so easy over there because he's so prepared. He's one of those guys, kind of like Adrian Gonzalez, where he just has this kind of smooth, under-control pace as a first baseman. Those lefty first basemen always look sweet over there."
Wilson called his first half of the season "really challenging so far, for a lot of different reasons."
The 34-year-old left-hander began with a 2.63 ERA in his first seven starts, then posted a 6.00 ERA over his next five and had fluid drained from his elbow somewhere in between. He's been getting by mostly on his changeup, a pitch he's been working on "since like 1994" and one he's now throwing more than ever now.
"It's made me much more efficient," Wilson said. "You guys [the media] have been complaining, saying, 'He throws too many pitches, walks too many guys,' etc., etc., etc. OK, fine. I want to get my WAR up, so I have to walk less guys, throw more innings in less pitches, so I have more left in the tank in September and October. It's always on my mind, to improve."
Whatever it takes, even if it's the adrenaline rush that comes with some smelling salts.
Wilson learned about the trick from Eric Gagne, his teammate with the Rangers in 2007, when Wilson was only in his third year and perhaps a little bit impressionable. Gagne's ritual, according to Wilson, was to inhale some ammonia, pound a Red Bull and pitch the ninth inning.
"I would do anything that Gagne did because he was so awesome," Wilson said. "I wore a huge, baggy uniform, let my hair grow out, I grew a goatee. He was my hero. I even pitched with the arm sleeve on and everything."