C.J. reins in Yanks as Nelson powers Angels

C.J. reins in Yanks as Nelson powers Angels

NEW YORK -- On June 13, three days after being designated for the third time in six weeks, Chris Nelson cleared waivers and had a decision to make: Accept an assignment to the Angels' Minor League system, or venture into the uncertain world of midseason free agency.

"I didn't want to go out and be a free agent, not be picked up, and then I'm just at the house, you know, playing 'Call of Duty' or something," Nelson said. "The organization wanted to keep me, and so I elected to stay here."

Nelson didn't know then that the Angels would fall out of the playoff picture, or that they'd trade their third baseman for 2014, or that he'd even get another chance to have an impact in the big leagues this season. And days like Thursday, when he hit a solo homer and a grand slam in the Angels' 8-4 victory, made his decision worth it.

"It was just one of those days, really," Nelson said. "Everything fell in place for me."

Nelson was back in Yankee Stadium, home to his second of three teams in what has been a whirlwind 2013 season.

Nelson's solo shot off Phil Hughes in the fourth into the Yankees' bullpen in right-center field was his first home run since Sept. 12, 2012. His homer off Boone Logan in the eighth marked his first career grand slam and multihomer game, ensuring that C.J. Wilson -- 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball despite allowing 12 baserunners -- would win his team-leading 13th game.

"He got a fastball up in the zone and he got a breaking ball he could handle," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He hurt us bad today."

"It's good to see his bat come alive," Mike Scioscia said of Nelson, who entered Thursday with a .258/.324/.306 slash line in 21 games with the Angels. "He's got some pop, and he hasn't really shown it this year in the 100-or-so at-bats that he's had. But you saw it today, and hopefully it's a sign of more to come, because there's no doubt he can drive the ball."

Nelson showed that in 2012, when he batted .301 with nine homers, 53 RBIs and 21 doubles in 111 games as the Rockies' primary third baseman.

Shortly after that, he got schooled on the business side of baseball.

On April 28, the organization that made him the ninth overall selection in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft parted ways. With top prospect Nolan Arenado ready to take the reins at third base, the Rockies designated Nelson for assignment, then flipped him to a Yankees team that had Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list.

Nelson appeared in 10 games for New York, batting .222, then was DFA'd a second time on May 15 and was claimed by the Angels three days later. He started two games in two weeks in Anaheim, was DFA'd a third time so a spot could be cleared for center fielder Peter Bourjos, cleared waivers again, went down to Triple-A and batted .328/.361/.545 in 34 games.

Finally, on July 30, an opportunity emerged. Alberto Callaspo -- signed through 2014 -- was traded to the A's for Grant Green, a versatile infielder who's a lot more comfortable at second base than third, and Nelson was called up from Triple-A to essentially be the starting third baseman for the rest of the season.

Nelson would like to make a case for next year, too.

"I would love it," said Nelson, who's 27 and another year away from arbitration. "I love the guys here, I love the organization and I just want to make my mark here."

Nelson's power helped the Angels avoid their first four-game sweep to the Yankees in 19 years, but it was Wilson's resilience that helped set the stage.

The veteran left-hander gave up 11 hits, walked one and struck out only three in a 124-pitch outing in the series finale, but he nonetheless matched his win total from last season and lowered his ERA to 3.40 in 25 starts. He's the sixth pitcher in Angels history and the first since Paul Byrd in 2005 to allow one run or fewer despite giving up 11-plus hits.

Postgame, Wilson -- 9-3 with a 2.98 ERA in his last 14 starts -- was standing in front of his locker when Nelson happened to walk by.

"What's up, hero?" Wilson said, smirking.

"Me?" Nelson said. "Nah!"

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.