'Pen delivers big as Halos keep Tigers caged

'Pen delivers big as Halos keep Tigers caged

DETROIT -- It was about 7 p.m. ET as the relievers were getting ready to make their daily trot from the dugout to the bullpen, when all of a sudden, there was a commotion. Tommy Hanson, scheduled to take the mound in roughly 15 minutes, had been scratched because of tightness in his right forearm, and Billy Buckner, a long reliever who recorded the final two outs of the previous game, was taking his place.

"I probably would've changed a few things had I known I was going to throw today," Buckner said, smiling. "I've had an eventful 24 hours."

Buckner began playing catch around the time the national anthem played at Comerica Park -- and what followed was the Angels' most improbable win of the season as they beat the Tigers, 7-4.

With their scheduled starter scratched minutes before game time, against a first-place Tigers team that hits better at home than any other team in the American League, the Angels somehow found a way to win to notch back-to-back victories, moving to 5-0 against Detroit this season.

Buckner gave up three runs in three-plus innings, and then five relievers -- Dane De La Rosa, Scott Downs, Michael Kohn, Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri -- limited the Tigers to one unearned run in six innings, pushing the Angels eight games below .500.

"They came out big," said Mike Trout, who hit a two-run homer and played a part in two of three runs in a game-breaking seventh, driving J.B. Shuck in from first base on a flare to shallow right field and scoring on a Josh Hamilton groundout.

Hanson, who was gone by the time the clubhouse opened to the media, will be re-evaluated on Thursday morning and will likely be placed on the disabled list. Thanks to more timely offense -- especially Erick Aybar's two-run homer in the sixth -- and a heroic bullpen effort -- most notably De La Rosa pitching out of a two-on, none-out jam in the fourth -- the Angels won the game he was supposed to start.

"For Billy Buckner to have to get down there and get loose in a hurry, and for our bullpen to respond the way they did is huge," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's a big offense over there. Billy did the best he can to kind of get us going, but the bullpen came in and gave us six strong innings."

Buckner, who became the sixth pitcher in Angels history to make a start on zero days' rest, gave up first-inning solo homers to Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera, then exited with two on and nobody out in the fourth, the Tigers ahead, 3-2.

At that point, with Garrett Richards throwing 47 pitches the night before, Scioscia could only turn to five short-inning relievers to cover the next six frames and hopefully keep the Angels within striking distance.

They did plenty more than that.

"To do it against a team like this, to cover that many innings with that many pitching changes -- everybody threw the [heck] out of the ball," said Jepsen, who allowed an eighth-inning run to score on a passed ball. "It was awesome."

"When we found out that our starter was hurt, I said, 'OK, I'm pitching two innings today,'" Frieri said in Spanish after recording his 18th save. "I spoke to [Jepsen], I told him, 'We're going to try to go two innings.' And Downsy, he was ready for two. We need to be together, and today demonstrated the togetherness we have in the 'pen."

There's a special bond that exists among the relievers of a Major League team, because only they can understand their unconventional existence. Sometimes they'll appear in three straight games, sometimes they'll go a week without throwing. One year they can be great, the next they might be awful. And if the media is talking to one of them after a game, it's usually because something bad happened.

Because of that, and because they share a small space away from the dugout for three hours a night, 162 times every summer, they come together. Jepsen symbolized that togetherness earlier this year, handing out gray T-shirts to all the relievers that reads: "Fly Or Die."

"You're down there for so many innings, every day, by yourself," said Kohn, who recorded the final two outs in the seventh inning on his 27th birthday. "It's not like the dugout, where you have multiple people there. We're a unit, we're always together, seven guys down there for nine innings every single day. You have to have a unit and a bond, and it starts with guys like Downsy, who are the veterans who keep us in line at times. We're brothers down there."

Dating back to last season, the Angels have won eight consecutive games against the Tigers, outscoring them 55-21 in the process. It's their longest active winning streak against any opponent.

And after a night when the Angels won a game they had no business winning, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was asked if they have his team's number.

"No, I don't think so," he said. "We got a lot of hits tonight [12]. We thought we could get a few more runs out of it with the number of hits we had. I don't really believe in that. It's another team that's a good team, and they've been swinging the bats very well lately. They're like everybody else. When they pitch good, they win games. No, I don't think it has anything to do with the matchup."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read 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.