OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Not all athletes who suffer serious head injuries are able to overcome the physical and psychological wounds.
Exactly seven months after being struck in the head by a line drive that left him with a cracked skull, Matt Shoemaker looked every bit the same pitcher he had been.
Shoemaker tossed five effective innings in his return to the mound and Danny Espinosa hit a three-run homer in the ninth to rally the Los Angeles Angels past the Oakland Athletics 7-6 on Tuesday night.
It was Shoemaker’s first regular-season outing since he was hit by a line drive off Kyle Seager’s bat in Seattle last September, an injury that required surgery to stop bleeding in his brain. The right-hander wore a carbon-fiber protective insert under his cap to protect an area where a titanium plate was inserted on his skull.
“He’s very determined,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s been very determined his whole career to get to this point. I think once he was physically fit, I think everyone felt that he would come back. He’s got the perseverance to get back on that mound and hopefully have the success that he had before.”
Shoemaker threw 99 pitches and labored at times. But he left with a 4-2 lead after allowing home runs to Jed Lowrie and Ryon Healy.
There was a bit of a scare in the fourth, when Stephen Vogt’s broken-bat comebacker glanced off Shoemaker’s hip.
“It felt pretty good. A little erratic with the location, but overall it felt pretty good,” Shoemaker said.
The Angels trailed 6-4 in the ninth when Espinosa sent an 0-2 slider from Ryan Dull (0-1) over the fence in right-center.
“I just got a good barrel to it,” Espinosa said.
Dull struck out Espinosa with a slider on Monday.
“One bad pitch,” the reliever said. “It was down, but I have to get it a little bit lower. Especially with him. He hit 24 homers for a reason.”
Jefry Marte’s infield single got the Angels going in the ninth. Cameron Maybin followed with a single and Andrelton Simmons reached on a fielder’s choice that sent Marte to third.
Andrew Bailey (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth for the win. Cam Bedrosian closed for his second career save and first this season.
Lowrie was 3 for 4 and nearly hit for the cycle. Right fielder Kole Calhoun’s diving catch in the eighth robbed him of extra bases, and likely the triple he needed.
Rajai Davis had a two-run triple for Oakland that barely reached the outfield grass. He scored on the play when Espinosa made an errant throw to third.
Angels catcher Martin Maldonado showcased his powerful throwing arm, picking off Marcus Semien at first base in the second inning and catching Rajai Davis trying to steal second in the third. “That’s what Martin can do,” Scioscia said. “He’s a game changer behind the plate.”
The Angels homered against Oakland for the 17th time in 18 games and have won 31 of the last 48 meetings between the teams.
Angels: RHP Huston Street, out since March 4 with lat strain, began his throwing program from 60 feet on flat ground.
Athletics: RHP Sonny Gray threw 25 pitches in his first bullpen session since sustaining a lat strain on March 7, manager Bob Melvin said. Gray used all his pitches and threw at full strength. He’ll have at least one more bullpen before a rehab assignment. … RHP Chris Bassitt will face hitters Wednesday for the first time since undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery last May.
Athletics: Rookie RHP Jharel Cotton pitches Wednesday night against the Angels. He held opponents to a .208 batting average in six starts last season.
Angels: RHP Garrett Richards makes his first start since May 1, 2016. He underwent stem cell treatment in lieu of Tommy John surgery for a partially torn ligament in his right elbow.