Angels teammates Luis Jimenez, left, Josh Hamilton, center, and Mike Trout… (Chris Carlson / Associated…)
Luis Jimenez began the season in the minor leagues, and two days ago J.B. Shuck was headed there. Andrew Romine, meanwhile, started the season on the Angels' bench, while Garrett Richards had one of the last seats in their bullpen.
So when all four found themselves in the Angels' starting lineup Saturday against the Houston Astros, it appeared to be more of a statement about how far the team had fallen than about how fast those players' stock has risen.
Yet that theory may have to be revised after Jimenez and Richards helped the Angels to a dramatic 5-4 win over the Astros that was decided on Albert Pujols' two-run, two-out double in the ninth inning.
The win not only snapped the Angels' losing streak at five games, it also gave them their first victory of the season at home. What's more, by scoring four times in their final two at-bats, the Angels may have finally awakened from a dreadful slump that had seen them score just twice in their previous 26 innings.
All that was what Manager Mike Scioscia was hoping for — but perhaps not counting on — when he wrote out his not-ready-for-prime-time lineup.
That, after all, was a move born of desperation, not design. Two weeks into the season, the last-place Angels are clearly scrambling, having lost the left side of their infield to injury and their opening-day starter to a fractured arm while their cleanup hitter is batting .186.
“We've had to change our lineups early because of some need right now early in the year,” he said. “Some of the guys that are playing are younger guys. I don't know if that energy is going to be as important as those guys going out and executing and having good at-bats, making the plays defensively, doing the things that we anticipate they will do.”
Richards certainly lived up to expectations, going 61/3 innings to become the first Angels starter to pitch into seventh inning this year. The right-hander hadn't been in a game in a week, but he was brilliant, retiring the first nine Astros in order before walking Jose Altuve on five pitches to start the fourth. Three batters later, Chris Carter drove a 3-1 pitch into the shrubbery beyond the center-field fence to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.
Josh Hamilton cut the lead in half two innings later with his first home run for the Angels — and the team's first on the homestand — before the clubs traded two-run rallies, with Houston scoring twice in the seventh and the Angels twice in the eighth.
That left it to rookie Michael Roth, called up from double-A Saturday, to quiet the Astros, striking out four in two perfect innings of relief. And he wound up earning the win after the 24-year-old Jimenez started the game-winning rally with a one-out walk.
An out later, Mike Trout's second infield single of the night pushed Jimenez into scoring position for Pujols, who drove them both home with a ground ball just inside third base for the 15th walk-off hit of his career and his first for the Angels.