Howie Kendrick's first-inning at-bat Sunday was much like a grueling six-game trip through Baltimore and Tampa Bay that ended with the Angels grinding out a 7-5 victory over the Rays in Tropicana Field.
It seemed like it would never end.
Tampa Bay starter Jake Odorizzi threw fastballs in and out, up and down. He mixed in a few changeups and sliders. Kendrick kept fouling off pitches, 10 in all, until he drove the 13th pitch of the at-bat over right fielder Ben Zobrist's head for a bases-loaded, run-scoring single.
The longest at-bat of Kendrick's career highlighted a five-run outburst in which the Angels, who also got big hits from Mike Trout (run-scoring double), Josh Hamilton (run-scoring single) and Efren Navarro (run-scoring double) in the inning, batted for 26 minutes and forced Odorizzi to throw 46 pitches.
"That was impressive," said third baseman David Freese, who was in the on-deck circle. "Early in the game, when you're battling like that, that's what it takes, especially this late in the year, when you get down to the wire and everyone's fighting for a playoff spot. Sometimes those are the at-bats that can get you over the hump and win a game."
Kendrick's at-bat seemed to set the tone for a 3-hour 46-minute game in which the Angels, who pulled to within one game of first-place Oakland in the American League West entering a four-game stretch against the Dodgers, refused to give in to the Rays or the elements.
A lightning strike at a nearby transformer knocked out several banks of lights in the third inning, causing a 19-minute delay that forced Angels starter Jered Weaver to throw in an indoor batting cage to stay loose for the second time. The right-hander also warmed up indoors while the Angels hit in the first inning.
Weaver walked four in six innings but got several big outs, including a strikeout of Brandon Guyer with two on to end the second inning and Kevin Kiermaier's infield popup with the bases loaded to end the fourth. He also pitched around Logan Forsythe's leadoff double in the sixth.
The Angels' trio of setup men, which had been lights out for weeks, flickered in the seventh inning when Jason Grilli, Kevin Jepsen and Joe Smith combined to give up three runs, three hits and three walks, and throw 47 pitches.
But Jepsen, after throwing a wild pitch that allowed a run to score, struck out pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez with a 96-mph fastball, and Smith, after walking pinch-hitter Cole Figueroa to force in a run that made it 7-5, got Kiermaier to ground out to second base to end the inning.
"We hit some bumps today, but it's good when you can get a win when you're scuffling," Smith said. "This whole road trip has been a grind. We've had some injuries, some guys are playing through some stuff. It happens over the course of a year. It's August now. It's all about winning and doing whatever it takes."
The Angels were 3-3 on the trip. All three games in Baltimore were decided by one run, with one going 12 innings and another 13 innings. They played a total of 22 hours 12 minutes, an average of 3:42 per game.
"We've got to get out of here," said Smith, looking as exhausted as he sounded. "We have to get home."
They might have boarded their flight a little earlier Sunday if not for Kendrick's marathon at-bat, but no one was complaining, not when it ended with a hit that seemed to demoralize Odorizzi, who lasted only three innings.
"It's taxing on both people, because you're up there, and you want to get the job done with runners in scoring position," Kendrick said. "And when the guy is throwing you everything he's got and you're fouling off some tough pitches, I can see how that would be a tough at-bat for any pitcher.
"I was going to battle, I can tell you that. I'm glad it ended the way it did."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun