It seemed as if Shohei Ohtani had paused for dramatic effect. The Angels were down by a run with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning Sunday when manager Joe Maddon called Juan Lagares back to the bench.
An Angel Stadium crowd of 15,154 rose to its feet in anticipation of an Ohtani pinch-hit appearance, but it took a good 10 seconds for the two-way star, who was scheduled for an off day, to pop out of the dugout, eliciting a huge roar.
Ohtani has done just about everything on the baseball field this season, launching tape-measure home runs, hurling triple-digit fastballs, stealing bases and even playing a little right field, thrusting himself into early contention for American League most valuable player honors.
But it turns out he was not polishing his Hollywood script-writing chops with Sunday’s game against the Oakland Athletics hanging in the balance.
“He was in the batting cage,” Maddon said, “getting loose.”
Ohtani nearly provided a Roy Hobbs-like moment, smoking an 111-mph drive to right fielder Seth Brown for a game-tying sacrifice fly, part of a three-run, seventh-inning rally that erased a four-run, third-inning deficit.
Justin Upton hit a game-winning sacrifice fly in the eighth, and closer Raisel Iglesias nailed down the final four outs of a 6-5 comeback victory, snapping a three-game losing streak and giving the Angels their fourth win in 13 games.
“I know from the outside it doesn’t look the greatest, but these guys are fighting every single day,” said Upton, who also singled twice and struck out twice in his first career start in the leadoff spot.
“We as a team feel like we’re putting ourselves in a position to win sometimes, and it just hasn’t worked out. We battled back today, put ourselves in a position to win and we were able to win, and hopefully that will spark the club.”
Jared Walsh knocked in two runs with a fourth-inning grounder and a sixth-inning solo homer, giving him 10 homers and 34 RBIs on the season. José Rojas had a key pinch-hit RBI single and José Iglesias hit a go-ahead RBI single in the seventh.
A much-maligned Angels bullpen that ranks 26th in baseball with a 4.96 ERA went 6 2/3 innings without yielding an earned run in relief of starter Dylan Bundy, who gave up four runs and five hits in 2 1/3 innings and is 0-5 with a 6.50 ERA in nine starts.
Steve Cishek retired seven straight — four by strikeout — from the fourth through sixth innings, Mike Mayers got four outs in the sixth and seventh, and after left-hander Tony Watson’s fielding error allowed the A’s to tie the score 5-5 in the eighth, Raisel Iglesias was dominant, striking out two of four batters.
“We don’t win that game without the bullpen, so give them credit,” Maddon said. “There was a lot of drama, a lot of good stuff … a lot of little things done well.”
Trailing 4-2 in the seventh, David Fletcher walked with one out and Upton hit a bloop single to left-center. Rojas lined an RBI single to right-center to pull the Angels to within 4-3, and Anthony Rendon walked to load the bases.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin summoned left-hander Reymin Guduan to face Ohtani, whose laser to right scored Fletcher for a 4-4 tie.
“I tell you what,” Maddon said. “With a different launch angle, that ball might have hit the scoreboard.”
José Iglesias followed with his RBI single to right-center for a 5-4 lead. With the Angels out of position players, Ohtani remained in the game in right field but did not see action. A pair of walks by Watson and the reliever’s throwing error allowed the A’s to tie the score in the eighth.
But Taylor Ward opened the bottom of the eighth with a walk, took second on Kurt Suzuki’s sacrifice bunt and third on Fletcher’s hard single to right. A’s right-hander Deolis Guerra got ahead of Upton with two strikes, but Upton got enough of an 83-mph changeup to loft a fly ball to medium left field.
Maddon said there was “never a doubt” Ward would test the arm of outfielder Chad Pinder, and it was the right decision. Ward easily beat the throw with a head-first slide home for a 6-5 Angels lead.
“With two strikes there, the last thing you want to do is put a ball on the ground and hit into a double play,” Upton said. “So I was trying hit something in the air, and was able to do that.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.