ANAHEIM, Calif. — Like every little league pitcher in Trenton, Mich., Shoemaker always dreamed of playing for the Detroit Tigers. But he went undrafted out of Eastern Michigan University and the dream looked to be far away.
Efren Navarro’s lifelong dream of playing baseball in the Major Leagues also seemed far off after getting drafted in the 50th round – a round that no longer even exists under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Saturday night at Angel Stadium, Navarro’s first big league home run was enough to give Shoemaker the win over his hometown Tigers and two dreams were finally realized.
The 4-0 Halos win was effectively powered by two baseball castoffs that have suddenly become fixtures for baseball’s second-best team.
"The depth of our club this year has been really fortified with some guys that weren’t household names," said manager Mike Scioscia. "Even coming out of spring training they weren’t real big. Matt Shoemaker pitched his way into our rotation, Efren Navarro played himself into our rotation, onto our team, to get at-bats."
It was another game in which the Angels didn’t do a whole lot offensively but what they did do was enough. But for the second night in a row, the Angels defense all but shut down the team with the best average in the American League using relatively unknown players.
Shoemaker out-dueled Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. Navarro out-hit MVP Miguel Cabrera. Go figure.
"He’s a highly-respected pitcher," Navarro said, still somewhat in awe of his accomplishment. "For me to get my first home run off of him is something very special and something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life."
Behind Shoemaker’s seven scoreless innings and some clutch defensive plays by Navarro and the infield, one of the most formidable lineups in the league managed only four hits. Shoemaker gave up three of those and struck out five, needing only 78 pitches.
Back in Michigan, several fans flipped their allegiances for a night in order to root for their hometown hero, while his parents and sister watched from the Big A.
"I’ve gotten so many encouraging messages from friends who are diehard Tiger fans," Shoemaker said. "I know I had the Tigers out there, but as long as I keep my focus, it’s like another game. I tried to kind of keep that even keel going."
Navarro’s blast came in the second with the left fielder leading off. After seeing two changeups, Verlander threw him a fastball inside, and right fielder Torii Hunter thought he lost it in the sun until the crowd roared behind him. Navarro had buried it deep in the stands.
"The count was 1-1 and he gave me a fastball in," Navarro said. "I was able to put the barrel on it and I was able to hit my first home run. I had an idea (that it was gone), I barreled the ball up and just to see it take off, it was like, ‘Yes, finally!’ A little lift off of my shoulders."
"It’s a great moment in any Major Leaguer’s career. Efren has waited a long time and worked very, very hard for this opportunity," Scioscia said. "I just saw a replay and Efren, you can see between first and second, he’s on cloud nine. You could tell."
Still only two games behind the A’s in the AL West and leading all Wild Card contenders, the Angels are using big names and no-names alike to take the American League by storm.
"I think it shows you how we’ve had to mix and match a little bit," Scioscia said. "Those guys did a great job against a tough pitcher tonight."