ANAHEIM -- These days, the importance of the “win” for a starting pitcher has been devalued in some quarters around the game. That was not the case in the Rangers' clubhouse after a 4-3 victory over the Angels on Friday night.
The Rangers knew this one was important for starter Drew Smyly. He held the Angels to three runs in six innings and earned his first win since Sept. 13, 2016, after the Rangers rallied for the victory.
The Rangers trailed 3-1 after five innings, but they scored one in the sixth on doubles by Hunter Pence and Asdrúbal Cabrera, and two runs in the seventh after errors made by Zack Cozart and Mike Trout. Pence, again, had the big hit with a two-run single to help the Rangers win their fifth game in a row.
“It felt good to get a win,” Smyly said. “It was a really good team win. We got behind, but the hitters kept putting the pressure on them. The bullpen shut them down and it was a great feeling to come out on top.”
This one wasn’t settled until Shawn Kelley closed it out in the ninth. It came down to Kelley against Trout with a runner on second and two outs, but the right-hander struck out the two-time American League MVP to earn his fifth save since becoming the Rangers' closer.
“I’m more tickled for Smyly,” Kelley said. “He went six and did what he is capable of doing and put it all together. ... It was fun to watch, and we held it up with the best player in the game coming up. It was a good day for us.”
Smyly, who missed all of 2017-18 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, was 0-3 with a 6.51 ERA in his first seven outings before finally getting his first win.
“It has been a long time since my last win,” Smyly said. “I put so much work into my recovery and this year has been a battle. Nobody said it was going to be easy, but I’m getting better with each start and just try to continue to improve. This whole season is just about getting back out there and competing, show what I can do with a chip on my shoulder.”
Smyly kept battling despite giving up home runs to Jonathan Lucroy and Brian Goodwin in the second, which gave the Angels an early 3-1 lead. His best work came in the bottom of the fifth with the Rangers still trailing by two.
David Fletcher led off with a single and Trout ripped a line drive deep down the left-field line for a ground-rule double to put runners on second and third. Smyly, however, was able to get out of it. Shohei Ohtani hit a line drive with an exit velocity of 101.6 mph right at first baseman Ronald Guzman for the first out. He then struck out Albert Pujols and got Lucroy on a liner to Shin-Soo Choo in left to end the threat.
“That was a huge momentum boost,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “We get down 4-1 or 5-1, that makes it tough against their bullpen. Fortunately, he found a way to get out of it.”
The doubles by Pence and Cabrera made it a one-run game and Woodward sent Smyly back out there, hoping he could get one more inning out of him. Getting Smyly a win was definitely on the manager’s mind.
“Going into that last inning, his pitch count was fine so I really wanted to get him the win,” Woodward said. “I don’t value that stat as much as I used to, but I really wanted him to get it. He has been battling through a lot of stuff. I really wanted to get him through the sixth. When he did, I told him we would get him a win.”
The Rangers got the lead with the help of a couple of errors in the seventh from the Angels, and the bullpen made it stand up with scoreless innings from Jesse Chavez, Chris Martin and Kelley. The Rangers, in addition to winning five straight, have won eight of their last nine. The pitching staff has a 3.18 ERA in that stretch.
“I am really proud of our pitching staff,” Woodward said. “We are going to have to lean on them heavily at times this year and they have really stepped up lately.”