In the ninth inning of Thursday night’s 4-3 win in Boston, as significant a victory as the Angels have produced this season in some respects, three September call-ups were on the field in support of Kevin Jepsen and Brian Fuentes – including the man calling the pitches, Bobby Wilson.
Reggie Willits was in left field, where Juan Rivera had opened the game, and Terry Evans was in right, which had been occupied by Gary Matthews Jr.
Willits dropped a perfect bunt to set up the winning run in the top of the ninth, scored by Evans as a pinch-runner, and Evans squeezed the final out.
Wilson blocked a few balls that could have been trouble and once again handled himself with confidence and poise at the most difficult position on the field.
“That’s big for guys like us,” said Evans, a graceful athletic with a lean but muscular frame, “to know they have the confidence to put us out there in a situation like that, a big game on the line. It gives us confidence, as well. It’s huge.”
Evans had another big year at Triple-A Salt Lake alongside Willits and Wilson, as well as Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Freddy Sandoval, Chris Pettit and the rest of the Bees’ formidable lineup. Evans, Wilson and Wood are out of options, meaning they’ll either be with the Angels next season or available to other clubs unless they’re included in deals.
“Anything we can do to contribute, we’re happy,” Evans said. “It can be the smallest thing. For us, that’s our role here. We have such a great lineup, we know what our roles are. And it’s exciting to get a chance to make any kind of contribution.”
Evans and Pettit have been used as pinch-runners late in games, freeing Willits for a role he is beginning to master: dropping a sacrifice bunt in conditions far more difficult than any casual fan would realize.
“It’s something he’s been great at, and it helps if they can hold him back for those spots,” Evans said. “Chris can run, and Freddy can run a little bit too. Reggie can do so many things, he’s a good guy to have around late in games. Plus, with Bobby catching, they can save [Mike] Napoli for pinch-hitting situations.”
Wilson has caught 11 innings this season, his pitchers yielding two earned runs. He made a game-saving, ninth-inning save of a ball in the dirt in Oakland when John Lackey (nine innings) and Fuentes combined for a 1-0 shutout in 10 innings.
Wilson was sent to Salt Lake after that Aug. 4 game, making it a bittersweet day.
“I love it any time I put on the gear and get a chance to play,” Wilson said. “We all want to be in there, and it was great that Terry, Reggie and I were all on the field together.”
“Especially,” a grinning Willits said, his bunt having set up Howard Kendrick’s game-winning single, “when we win.”
Evans had gone in to run for Rivera after his leadoff walk against Red Sox lefty Billy Wagner.
“With more bench strength, especially pinch-running,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “it’s a way to infuse some speed into a situation. The baseball experience of the Major Leagues, cutting their baby teeth, is a big step for these younger players. September is important.”
Brad Penny clearly would have value to the Angels if he clears waivers on Saturday when the 72-hour window for released players closes. The veteran right-hander was handed his release by the Red Sox on Thursday to open roster space for reliever Billy Wagner, acquired from the Mets in a waiver deal.
Penny, 31, signed a $5 million free-agent deal with the Red Sox, but he will not reach any of the bonus incentives for innings pitched. He was 7-8 in 24 starts and 131 2/3 innings for Boston with a 5.61 ERA. His bonuses in $500,000 increments were to kick in with 160 innings pitched.
Penny’s performance this season was a far cry from the back-to-back 16-win seasons he delivered for the Dodgers in 2006 and 2007. He started the ’06 All-Star Game for the National League in Pittsburgh – yielding a mammoth homer to Vladimir Guerrero – and was third in the ’07 NL Cy Young Award balloting after going 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA.
Eleven American League clubs would have a shot at claiming Penny before the Angels, whose record is surpassed only by the Yankees. With less than a quarter of the season remaining, he’d amount to a bargain-basement pickup at less than $100,000 with the Major League minimum at $400,000.
With the Angels going with young Trevor Bell in the fifth spot in the rotation, Penny would be a natural fit for the estimated six starts remaining. He’d have to sign by Monday to be eligible for a postseason roster spot, unless an injury opens space.
Penny certainly showed in 2003 with the Marlins that he didn’t mind postseason pressure, twice beating the Yankees in the World Series with a 2.13 ERA in his two outings.
Penny requested his release on Wednesday night.
“Because we ended up letting him go, our feelings don’t change about him personally,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “We really appreciated the way Brad went about his business. He was a good teammate, and he worked hard. We’re always pretty honest about the fact that we do what’s in the best interest of the organization and the team, and we try to tell the players that.”