Williams comes full circle with 1st shutout in 9 years

Williams comes full circle with 1st shutout in 9 years

Williams comes full circle with 1st shutout in 9 years
ANAHEIM -- A lot has changed for Jerome Williams since June 27, 2003, the last time he threw one of these shutouts.

In that 3,201-day span, he's gone through seven Major League organizations, pitched through two stints of independent ball, spent a year in Taiwan, gained weight and, for a while, lost hope.

In short, he's done a lot of growing up.

"Back then I was young," Williams said, with his 2-year-old son, Tai, seated on his lap. "I didn't want to listen to nobody. I wanted to throw the ball by everybody. But now I'm a pitcher."

Williams was as fine a pitcher as there was on Tuesday night, when he twirled a three-hit, ground-ball-dominated gem against the Twins that led the Angels to a 4-0 win at Angel Stadium and only their second set of back-to-back victories this season.

The red-hot Torii Hunter homered and knocked in two runs, and Howie Kendrick fell a double short of the cycle, setting the tone for an offense that has gone nine straight games without double-digit hits and has now seen Albert Pujols -- 0-for-4 with his first RBI since April 15 on Tuesday -- go 96 consecutive at-bats without a home run and bat just .208.

But Williams didn't need much run support on this night.

Against a Justin Morneau-less Twins lineup, the 30-year-old right-hander and his heavy sinker got 15 outs on ground balls, allowed only five balls to leave the infield, allowed just one runner to reach second base (on defensive indifference in the ninth), struck out six and worked 11 0-2 counts.

Nobody was touching him.

"This guy was in and out of the zone -- sinker, cutter, hard, soft," Hunter said. "I mean, he was awesome."

"He never really centered the ball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire added. "We didn't really square up all night long. He pretty much ate us up. Made quick work of us, really."

Williams' biggest boost came all the way back in the top of the third, when he ended the inning by picking off his overly aggressive ex-teammate, Denard Span.

Williams would then retire 17 straight batters before issuing his only walk, to Span with two outs in the ninth. Then, on his 109th pitch, after Span took second, he retired Alexi Casilla swinging, striking out the side in the final frame, moving his ERA 3.55 on the year and putting the finishing touches on perhaps the best game he has ever pitched.

The span of complete games -- eight years, nine months, four days -- was the longest since Lindy McDaniel had a complete game on May 15, 1960, and then another on July 10, 1973.

"It was fun," Williams said. "It was just fun to go out there and perform well."

Minus Hunter -- who has five RBIs in the last two games, four homers in his last five and a .400 batting average in his last eight -- the Angels' offense is still a mess. And minus Scott Downs, the newly assigned closer who wasn't needed on this night, the bullpen has been quite the hindrance.

But the Angels' rotation has lived up to all the hype recently, registering a quality start in 11 of the last 12 games while putting up a 2.29 ERA in that span.

The biggest sign of the staff's dominance: the fifth starter being able to pitch games like this.

"Whether you're lead dog or you're the fifth starter, we need good starts," manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's what we've been getting, and Jerome has pulled his share, that's for sure."

Williams was a cocky 21-year-old with an electric fastball and very little upstairs 3,201 days ago, when he pitched his first career shutout as a rookie with the Giants, limiting the A's to seven hits and one walk at Pacific Bell Park.

Williams would post a 3.92 ERA while averaging 21 starts per season from 2003-05 -- then his career spiraled. He spent most of '06 in the Cubs' Minor League system, signed a Minor League contract in '07, was released by the Nats in August of that year, started '08 in independent ball, pitched in the Dodgers' system later that season, spent almost the entire '09 campaign with the A's Triple-A affiliate, pitched for the Taiwanese Uni-President Lions in 2010 and spent most of last year with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League.

Then, in June, the Angels gave him a shot.

And ever since then, Williams has been reborn.

"You think?!" said Williams, who posted a 3.68 ERA in 44 big league innings down the stretch, making him the favorite for the Angels' final rotation spot heading into Spring Training. "Now I feel like I belong. And I want to be here for a while, for a long time. All I have to do is do what I do every day -- work hard and pitch well."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.