Matt Shoemaker has been one of the biggest unexpected contributors to the Los Angeles Angels' climb atop the AL West. With fellow starting pitcher Garrett Richards possibly lost for the season due to a knee injury, the pressure to deliver increases Thursday night when the Angels seek their first four-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in more than 52 years.
Shoemaker (11-4, 3.84 ERA), who made his major league debut late last year and had toiled through three unremarkable seasons in the minors before being called up early this season, is facing the Red Sox for the second time in 11 days, but it will be his first career start against them. He got the win in Los Angeles' 5-4, 19-inning victory on Aug. 9, striking out four in three perfect innings to close out the game.
The right-hander followed that up with a victory at Texas on Saturday, yielding two runs and four hits while grinding out 5 2-3 innings of a 5-4 victory.
"There's nobody in this locker room that deserves that more than him," Albert Pujols told the team's website regarding the success of Shoemaker, who is trying to become the first Angels rookie to win 12 games since Ervin Santana in 2005.
Despite Shoemaker's 5-1 road record, he does have a 5.70 ERA there in eight outings. The Angels (75-50) have picked up the slack by giving him an average of 9.55 runs in his six road starts.
Los Angeles' bid for its first four-game sweep at Fenway since May 18-20, 1962, came at a high price in Wednesday night's 8-3 victory as Richards crumpled in a heap with an injured left knee after tripping to cover first base on a ball hit by Brock Holt in the second inning. Richards was taken off on a stretcher with what the Angels called a patellar injury without further elaborating.
"Winning the game is important but it's secondary to what happened," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Obviously, it's a significant injury. That's really all I know, I don't have a diagnosis yet."
Another member of the rotation, Jered Weaver, recounted Richards being near inconsolable after being told the likely severity of the injury.
"He wasn't feeling too much pain when he was on the table. When the doctor came in and told him that he might have done something to his patellar tendon and there might be surgery involved, he kind of lost it.''
The Red Sox (56-70), who are an abysmal 2 for 32 with runners in scoring position in this series, turn to Rubby De La Rosa (4-4, 3.79). The mid-season callup failed to build on his Aug. 10 victory over the Angels, escaping without a loss Saturday after being roughed up for six runs and nine hits in four innings before Boston rallied to beat Houston 10-7.
That effort was a stark contrast to the right-hander's effort in beating the Angels, whom he limited to a solo homer by Mike Trout and four other hits in seven innings of a 3-1 victory. De La Rosa has split his two lifetime starts versus Los Angeles.
Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick went a combined 6 for 12 with six RBIs in Wednesday's victory, and Hamilton's three-RBI effort ended an 11-game drought without one.
David Ortiz is 8 for 10 with two homers and four walks in this series. His solo shot Wednesday gave him eight 30-homer seasons, tying Ted Williams' club record.