Brandon Phillips sent one out, Luis Valbuena matched him, and, soon, Mike Trout topped them both. By launching three homers in a 15-minute span, the Angels ensured their playoff quest could last at least 24 more hours. They pummeled an inferior team and kept up with Minnesota, which can eliminate them with one more win.
“We’re in it,” said the Angels’ starter, Parker Bridwell. “We’re not out yet.”
The White Sox announced a crowd of 13,786 fans in a 40,000-seat stadium that appeared at least three-quarters empty. Chicago started a 31-year-old right-hander named Chris Volstad, who had not started an MLB game since Oct. 2, 2012, only 10 miles north at Wrigley Field. That season, he was similarly helping play out the string for the then-lowly Cubs.
Since then, he has played in Korea and opened a well-regarded microbrewery back home in Jupiter, Fla. Three weeks ago, he returned there after the triple-A season. Shut down for the winter, he was packing to prepare for Hurricane Irma when the White Sox called him: They needed bullpen help. Soon, they required starting-rotation help.
So he did not present formidable opposition, and the Angels took advantage. The three home runs netted six runs, all in the second inning.
After Volstad’s five-and-dive, the Angels bashed two subsequent relievers in the seventh inning. Two walks and a single loaded the bases for Justin Upton, who grounded in one run. Albert Pujols singled in two, stretching his RBI total this season to 100. It is the 14th time in his career he has reached that number. No one has done it more.
Jose Abreu provided the game’s first run, a blast to left off of Bridwell with two out in the first. He also supplied Chicago’s next, another solo shot off Bridwell with two out in the sixth.
In his post-start assessment, Bridwell noted that he had to locate more first-pitch fastballs within the strike zone. He then reconsidered.
“Those fastballs that Abreu hit out, they weren’t early in the count,” Bridwell said. “I’ve gotta be better at locating fastballs in every count.”
Still, Bridwell nearly completed seven innings, and he used only 79 pitches to do it, enticing early contact even after his first-pitch misses. He struck out only one batter.
“What Parker Bridwell did was really important,” Angels manager Mike Scio-scia said. “For the most part, he had contact on his terms.”
The Angels will start Bridwell once more this season, in Sunday’s season finale. He will finish the year fourth on the team in innings, a remarkable feat for a 26-year-old who began this season banished to a triple-A bullpen in Norfolk, Va. Unearthed, acquired by the Angels, and sent to double A, he worked his way up, aided by injuries.
He has a 3.87 earned-run average, a better-than-average number in this season’s run environment. But his surrounding statistics do not support that success, as Bridwell has struck out only 15% of the batters he has faced this season. Of the 129 pitchers who have thrown 100 or more innings this season, only 11 have struck out a lesser rate of hitters, and all but one of them has been bad.
In arguing that Bridwell can avoid that fate in the future, Scioscia referred to Tuesday’s events as evidence.
“Parker has enough stuff that he’s not a fluke,” the manager said. “He has all the pitches to pitch the way he did tonight.”
As a team, the most the Angels can hope for now is a tiebreaker game Monday in Minneapolis. Even that would require all 10 remaining outcomes going their way through this week: five of their own victories, and five Twins losses. Any departures, and their dreams are dead.
“We need help, sure,” Scioscia said. “But we need to win games.”
Left-hander Andrew Heaney said he felt good after his bullpen session Tuesday. He is expected to start in Thursday’s series finale. …The earliest third baseman Yunel Escobar could return to the Angels is Friday, after they return home to Anaheim. He has been out because of an oblique strain. Playing regularly in his absence, first baseman C.J. Cron snapped an 0-for-20 hitless streak Tuesday.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura