Shields gives up decisive homer in ninth
Reliever makes mistake against Tigers' Damon in loss
DETROIT -- Scot Shields has been one of the most decorated relievers without gaudy save statistics in the last 10 years. He was selected by Sports Illustrated as Set-Up Man of the Decade for that period of time. But early on this season, Shields is fighting it a bit and Saturday he left one out over the plate to Johnny Damon in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Damon didn't miss it, driving it far enough to just elude the glove of right fielder Bobby Abreu. At 348 feet it may have been a long out. At 350 feet it turned into a 3-2 Tigers win over the Angels.
The Damon homer forced Shields (0-1) to recount an unwelcomed flashback to Aug. 26, 2002, when he gave up a walk-off home run to Damon at Fenway Park in a 10-9 Red Sox victory over the Angels. That homer curled around the Pesky Pole in right then, Shields said. On both occasions the home crowd went home happy while Shields was left to replay the moment in time.
"I fell behind 2-0 [on Damon] and then I had to throw a strike and I got too much plate," Shields said. "I felt my stuff was good and my fastball had life. I just didn't hit my spot there."
The Angels as a team did get some hits offensively -- 11 of them in fact -- but just two were extra-base hits. They stranded five runners as Tigers pitchers issued zero walks, and Gerald Laird also threw out two runners attempting to steal.
"We had opportunities to score, but give them credit because they got out of some jams," said Halos manager Mike Scioscia. "[Laird] had a good game throwing the ball and getting a couple of our runners. And then we didn't get a call at home plate."
The call Scioscia was referring to came in the sixth inning when Hideki Matsui made the third out at home. Juan Rivera had just hit a two-out single to left field and Matsui was waved home. Damon, known for having an outfield arm that can be run on, fired an accurate one-hopper to Laird, who according to home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom put the tag down on Matsui before he touched the base.
Scioscia said afterward that he thought Matsui was safe seeing the play live and he still felt that way after watching a replay.
"[Cederstrom] said Matsui was blocked off the plate and by the time he got there the tag was on him," Scioscia said. "I didn't see it that way. That's about as well as Damon can throw the ball and [Matsui] was still safe. But you still have to absorb that play and move on."
The Angels battered Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman around for 10 hits in six innings, but the outfield assist by Damon prevented Bonderman from a possible loss. Once again the Detroit bullpen was strong as Eddie Bonine, Fu-Te Ni and Ryan Perry (1-1) allowed just one hit in three combined innings.
Scott Kazmir did have a strong outing for the Angels, although it took him 117 pitches to get through six innings. Detroit was 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position against Kazmir, who had good life on his fastball.
"I was aggressive with my fastball because I could tell they weren't picking it up too well," Kazmir said. "I threw a few sliders, but they weren't chasing them like I wanted, so I mixed in some [off-speed] pitches and then doubled and tripled up on my fastball."
Kazmir allowed five hits and four walks, striking out seven along the way.
Brandon Inge had given Detroit a 1-0 lead in the first when he hit a sacrifice fly to drive in rookie Austin Jackson. And it appeared for some time as if Kazmir might struggle. He stranded two runners in the first and then issued a two-out walk to No. 9 hitter Adam Everett in the second. But Kazmir struck out the side in the second and left three more runners stranded in the fourth.
Detroit added an unearned run in the fifth when Damon scored on a Miguel Cabrera single. Damon ended up at third when Erick Aybar tried to get the speedy outfielder moving over from second to third on a grounder, but the throw glanced off Damon, allowing him to score a few pitches later.
Scioscia didn't have any issues with Aybar's decision to try and get the lead runner at third on that play.
"I thought it was a good play, it was right in front of him and he reacted," Scioscia said. "He has an accurate arm, I mean you only had to throw it, what, about 60 feet? It just glanced off [Damon]. That happens."
The bottom of the Angels' order, which has struggled all season, produced a run in the fifth. Mike Napoli missed a two-run homer by about three feet, and a quick relay kept Kendry Morales, who had singled, at third. Brandon Wood then drilled a sharp single to left, scoring Morales and putting the Angels up 2-1. It was Wood's ninth hit in his last 24 at-bats after starting the season hitting .087 in his first 46 at-bats.
Detroit committed three errors in the fourth accounting for the Angels' other run. Howard Kendrick singled and went to second on a pickoff ball that got away from first baseman Cabrera. Kendrick then scored when Abreu hit a sinking liner into right field that handcuffed a sliding Ryan Raburn. The hit was ruled an error and Kendrick scrambled home from third when the relay from Raburn again eluded Cabrera for his second error of the inning.
The Angels did have other opportunities to score early. But when it seemed like the Halos had a viable threat, Laird snuffed it with his right arm. Laird threw out Aybar in the first and Abreu in the fourth trying to steal. Laird is widely regarded as one of the league's top defensive catchers, having caught 42 of 101 runners attempting to steal in 2009 and now 6 of 20 this season.
Morales had three singles to raise his average to .315. Napoli and Wood each added a pair of hits.
Mike Scott is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.