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Halos write different ending to the same story

@Sportsgal25
June 15, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was hard to choose between what was more impressive about the Angels’ win on Saturday afternoon: That they took down a seasoned vet during his best stretch, or that a largely untested freshman would actually emerge as the king of the hill. That the Halos sent

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was hard to choose between what was more impressive about the Angels’ win on Saturday afternoon: That they took down a seasoned vet during his best stretch, or that a largely untested freshman would actually emerge as the king of the hill.

That the Halos sent Jose Suarez to the mound against the American League East-leading Rays said a lot about the 21-year-old’s moxy in and of itself. That he was able to hold one of baseball’s top teams to three runs before the bullpen took over during the 5-3 win at Tropicana Field said even more.

Box score

“I thought this was [Suarez’s] best [start] by far,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “He gave us a chance to win in his first couple … but I thought in terms of pitch usage, and efficiency and stuff, I thought this was his best.”

Suarez opened the game with three no-hit frames before Tommy Pham spoiled the bid with a leadoff single in the fourth. Undaunted, the left-hander retired six of the next seven hitters he faced to see the Angels cruise into the bottom of the sixth inning with a 4-0 lead.

“He did everything we needed him to do today,” said catcher Kevan Smith. “We needed him to go deep in the game and just attack those hitters in the zone, and he did it with all of his pitches. Kept them off-balance, and we were able to obviously get to our horses in the bullpen and close the game out.”

If the first part of that storyline sounds familiar -- or makes you a little nervous -- it’s because that during each of the past two games, Tampa Bay has used the sixth inning to vault from scoreless to either a legitimate threat (Thursday) or in control of the game (Friday). When Suarez allowed back-to-back singles to open the frame and then a one-out, three-run Yandy Diaz homer, it felt almost certain that Saturday would be a repeat of Friday’s debacle.

Except it wasn’t. Showing a serious amount of poise for a three-game MLB veteran, Suarez rebounded to induce a groundout from the next hitter, Ji-Man Choi, before he was replaced by Cam Bedrosian. The home run, although definitely a heart-skipper at the time, did nothing to spoil Suarez’s day … or that of the Angels, who can take the series with a win Sunday after finishing 1-6 against Tampa Bay last season.

So what was the difference between this start and last for Suarez? According to the lefty, success lay in tinkering with his offspeed pitches.

“Well, in my last start, I wasn’t working my curveball very well,” Suarez said in Spanish. “But I told my pitching coach that I wanted to work a lot more [with it].”

The result was a strong day on the hill that dropped his ERA to 4.50. The home run was the only damage he sustained in his 5 2/3 innings while scattering five hits, striking out three and walking one.

“I felt really good today with all my pitches, and I was really happy with my performance,” Suarez said. “Things [just] sped up on me a little bit [in the sixth], and I was working a little faster.”

The Halos’ bullpen held tight after Suarez’s departure, with Bedrosian allowing just one hit over the next 1 1/3 innings, Ty Buttrey working the eighth, and Hansel Robles slamming the door in the ninth to move the Halos to within one game of .500, a mark they haven’t seen since April 15.

“It’s good to get that kind of off your back,” Ausmus said. “We had a rough one [Friday] out of the ’pen, but to come back less than 24 hours later and get the job done certainly makes it a lot easier to enjoy dinner.”

On Saturday just as it had the previous two games, the Angels’ lineup provided an early boost to give its starter some breathing room, scoring four over the first four innings. Saturday’s test brought with it an extra confidence-booster: All four runs came against Rays starter Charlie Morton, who entered play with an 8-0 record and had not lost since Aug. 11, 2018, MLB’s longest active unbeaten streak.

“Those kinds of games, you make a couple of mistakes and you pay for them,” Morton said. “[The Angels] put some really good swings on those pitches.”

A leadoff walk to Smith, a Brian Goodwin double and a home run from David Fletcher gave the Halos a 3-0 lead in the second inning that they wouldn’t lose. The boost also ended Morton’s 15-inning scoreless streak.

Justin Bour and Smith hit solo homers in the fourth and eighth innings, respectively, for the final margin.

Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.