Jerome Williams began the year pitching for the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League, wondering if he would end up going back to Taiwan without ever getting another shot in the major leagues.
After his one-hit dominance for the Los Angeles Angels in a key victory for their playoff hopes Wednesday night, it’s clear the pink glove isn’t even the most unusual part of Williams’ remarkable revival.
Maicer Izturis hit a go-ahead, two-run double in the eighth inning, rewarding Williams for pitching eight innings in the Angels’ 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
Peter Bourjos added a run-scoring single in the eighth as Los Angeles trimmed the Texas Rangers’ AL West lead to 2-1/2 games with a dramatic rally. Williams (3-0) narrowly outdueled Seattle rookie left-hander Charlie Furbush (3-8), who held the Angels scoreless until the eighth.
Trayvon Robinson’s sixth-inning leadoff homer was the Mariners’ only hit off Williams, a journeyman who has made three strong starts for Los Angeles down the playoff stretch. Williams spared only a moment afterward to consider just how far he has traveled since reinventing himself as a deceptive four-pitch right-hander last season.
”It’s exciting to a point,” Williams said. ”I can’t let all those emotions get to me when I go out there and pitch. We’re in the hunt for the playoffs, and I’ve got to focus on getting wins. . . . If I keep on putting up zeros, I’ll keep the guys in the hunt.”
Williams, the Hawaii native known for his puka-shell necklaces during his previous major league stops in San Francisco and Chicago, is wearing a pink glove to honor his mother, who died of breast cancer. Until the Angels signed him in June and recalled him last month, he had been out of the majors since 2007, playing in Taiwan, Puerto Rico and two independent leagues.
”When I was playing down there, I was just wondering who was going to call,” Williams said.
The Angels are grateful they were the first team on the phone. Williams, who struck out five and walked one, has filled a gaping hole in the Angels’ top-heavy rotation since Joel Pineiro and Tyler Chatwood both struggled in recent weeks.
”This guy pitched with his back against the wall all night,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ”He just makes pitches. It’s a great story. He has evolved as a pitcher, and if he can keep his stuff the way it is, he’s going to pitch in the big leagues for a long time.”
All-Star closer Jordan Walden pitched a hitless ninth for his 29th save as the Angels again gained ground on the defending AL champion Rangers, who lost 5-4 to the Tampa Bay Rays earlier Wednesday.
Williams retired 15 of the Mariners’ first 16 hitters, yielding only Mike Carp’s leadoff walk in the second inning until the homer by Robinson, Williams’ minor-league teammate at Class-A Inland Empire in 2008. The Los Angeles native’s drive to right field was caught on the fly by a fan in the front row of the short porch in right field.
”He goes out there and battles,” Robinson said of Williams. ”He pounds the zone and he doesn’t give up.”
Both starters worked quickly and smoothly in the series finale on another uncomfortably warm night in Orange County until the big finish.
Furbush yielded five hits and one walk, throwing 100 pitches in the longest start of his career. The rookie has lost four straight starts with the club that acquired him from Detroit in late July, but he thoroughly dominated the Angels for seven innings.
”Until the eighth inning, I put the team in a position to win the game, and that’s all I can do as a starter — go as deep as I can,” Furbush said. ”I felt good in the eighth. Maybe I got a little out of whack there at the end, but physically I felt fine.”
The Angels finally rallied when Erick Aybar reached on a one-out infield single in the eighth, advancing to second on a wild pitch. After pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo walked, Izturis put a drive into the left-center gap.
Bourjos then connected against reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, scoring Aybar.
”I wanted to give him the opportunity,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. ”I thought he earned it. . . . It’s a significant step for him, to be out there in that situation. It didn’t work out this time, but now he’s gone through it late in a ballgame, and he’ll be better for it next time.”
Despite his pedestrian record, Furbush has showed signs of dominance this season, notably pitching seven innings of one-run ball against the mighty Boston Red Sox last month.
The Mariners backed him with exceptional infield defense, including third baseman Alex Liddi’s difficult stop and throw to nip Hunter in the seventh.
NOTES: Liddi went 0 for 2 in his major league debut. The Italian-born infielder is the first graduate of the MLB European Academy to reach the majors. … The Angels have Thursday off before opening a weekend series against the New York Yankees, while the Mariners return home Thursday to face Kansas City in a four-game series.