Conger's pinch-hit heroics lift Angels in ninth
PH Hamilton doubles with two outs to set the table for catcher's homer
MILWAUKEE -- Hank Conger wasn't about to sugarcoat his intentions when he came up to bat in the ninth inning, with Josh Hamilton on second, two outs and the Angels down a run at Miller Park on Saturday night.
"Really," Conger said, "I was just trying to swing as hard as I could and hit a homer."
On a 2-1, chest-high, 99-mph fastball from Brewers closer Jim Henderson, Conger did, crushing a towering fly ball that sailed way above the right-field fence, bounced off the foul pole and provided a come-from-behind 6-5 victory.
The Angels (62-72) have no doubt had a frustrating year, but this nine-game road trip has provided a nice distraction from it all. They've won seven of their last eight games -- six on the strength of shutdown pitching and this one thanks to a couple of timely pinch-hits.
"Really fun," Conger said of the trip, which concludes on Sunday. "We don't like losing. I don't think anybody likes losing. For us to come back, especially tonight, and get on a little streak here on the road trip has been very exciting for us."
It started, really, with Hamilton.
The Angels' right fielder has been nursing a sore left shoulder all week, then was overcome by a severe migraine headache prior to Friday's game, prompting him to leave the team in the second inning and sit out Saturday's contest because he still felt "drained."
In the sixth, though, he started taking some flips in the batting cages. Three innings after that, he pinch-hit for Peter Bourjos with none on, two outs and the Angels down, 5-4. And on a 3-0 count, he tried to go deep and wound up over-swinging, chasing a high fastball.
"The ideal thing is to not over-swing," Hamilton said. "Ninety-eight [mph], you don't have to over-swing; just put the barrel on the ball. That ran through my head after I took that swing -- just barrel it up."
Hamilton put that into play on the very next pitch, stroking a line drive into shallow right field and stretching it into a double when it bounced off the glove of a diving Caleb Gindl. Four pitches later, Conger -- hitting in the pitcher's spot -- gave the Angels their third lead with his first career pinch-hit homer.
"I've never seen him before, so I was trying to track him," Conger said of Henderson, who entered with a 1.82 ERA and 22-for-25 in saves. "After a couple, I was just like, 'Try to put a good swing on it, and just try to drive the ball.'"
The Brewers (59-76) have had a rough year. But one thing they've done well is hold leads late. They entered Saturday as baseball's only undefeated team when leading after eight innings, and -- after a relatively easy save by Ernesto Frieri -- ended it 50-1 in such situations.
"I felt good with my fastball tonight," Henderson said. "It was lively. I throw a lot of fastballs. Conger, credit him. He was just timing it up there, saw three of them and timed up the third one. It was a little bit too middle, for sure."
Angels starter Jerome Williams gave up eight hits, and several hard-hit balls that resulted in outs, but still managed to pitch six innings of three-run ball and left with a lead -- exiting only because his spot in the lineup was up -- to put his ERA at 2.93 over his last three games (two starts).
For Williams, it all comes down to his sinker -- and getting it down.
"That's my main pitch," he said. "That's what I have to get over for strikes, and then I can work off that. Earlier part of the game, I couldn't really find the strike zone. And then I started using my secondary pitches, and then once my sinker started working, I was fine."
Up a run in the seventh, Buddy Boshers and Michael Kohn -- members of an Angels bullpen that had posted a 1.59 ERA in its previous nine games -- gave up the lead, teaming to load the bases before Kohn yielded a two-run single to Jonathan Lucroy.
But Conger timed three Henderson fastballs, and on the fourth, he didn't hold back.
"Let's just say I was swinging very hard," he said with a smile. "Let's just keep it at that."