With two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani on the mound for the Angels on Wednesday, manager Joe Maddon chose to give up the designated hitter and let the co-American League leader in home runs bat for himself against the Giants.
Ohtani dazzled with six innings of one-run ball against a Giants offense that entered the series red-hot at the plate, but six innings after the starter came out of the game, the rare decision to let a pitcher hit for himself played into the Giants’ favor.
A wild 9-3 affair finally ended after the Giants scored seven 13th inning runs and held the Angels scoreless to one as a walk, a wild-pitch, a two-run single from Steven Duggar and a three-run home run from Mike Tauchman broke the game open in San Francisco’s favor.
Tauchman entered his 13th inning at-bat one strike away from tying the major league record with his sixth strikeout of the game, but deposited a three-run home run into the right field bleachers to put the game out of reach.
The Giants’ outburst came after a pair Angels starting pitchers, Griffin Canning and Dylan Bundy, were pressed into action in the 12th inning as Canning took injured catcher Kurt Suzki’s spot in the lineup while Bundy struck out to end a walk-off threat in the pitcher’s spot in the lineup.
The chaos began after Angels catcher Kurt Suzuki took a foul ball off his mask and needed to exit the game, forcing left fielder Taylor Ward to grab shin guards and a chest protector. With a short bench and his second catcher, Yuba City High product Max Stassi, already out of the game after pinch-hitting, Maddon needed Canning to go to left field and enter the game in Suzuki’s spot and Ward, who had never caught at the major league level, to move behind the plate for high-leverage situations.
Despite having two pitchers bat in the 12th inning, the Giants tied the game against reliever Dominic Leone and nearly won it on a fielder’s choice in which center fielder Juan Lagares was initially ruled safe at the plate. On a one-out ground ball to first baseman Darin Ruf, Lagares took off for home and tried to slide away from Buster Posey, but a replay review overturned the call on the field as Posey had placed a tag down just in time.
By becoming the first-ever American League team to give up the designated hitter in a game in which a National League club used one, the Angels put themselves in a precarious position on a day when Maddon’s club was already playing with a short bench due to Justin Upton’s injury.
In the 10th inning, Maddon chose to use his second catcher, Stassi, as a pinch-hitter for closer Raisel Iglesias with the bases loaded and one out against Giants righty Zack Littell. Stassi was ahead in the count 3-1 and poised to send the Angels home as winners, but he chased a pair of pitches outside the zone and struck out to bring Anthony Rendon to the plate.
Rendon then sent a hard groundball back up the middle that caromed off Littell’s leg, but it took a fortuitous bounce for the Giants toward first baseman Darin Ruf who gloved the ball and tossed to Littell covering the first base bag to send the game to the 11th.
Ruf was only playing first base because the Giants lost their starter, Brandon Belt, to an injury in the top of the eighth inning after he attempted to score the potential go-ahead run on a chaotic play when right fielder Luis Rengifo’s throw to third skipped away from Rendon.
The ball caromed right back to the Angels third baseman and Belt was thrown out by 15 feet at home plate, but after being tagged, he immediately crumpled to the grass and clutched his right leg before getting assistance from trainer Dave Groeschner to make it down the dugout steps.
For much of Wednesday’s game, the spotlight belonged to starters Kevin Gausman and Shohei Othani, who combined to throw 13 innings and rack up 18 strikeouts while each giving up just one run.
It’s well established that Gausman’s splitter is one of the most effective offerings for any pitcher in the majors yet the Angels could barely touch it on Wednesady. Of the 100 pitches Gausman threw, 49 were splitters. Angels batters swung at 34 of them, but whiffed on 18 of those while hitting another 10 foul.