ANAHEIM (AP) — Bartolo Colon was an injury-plagued pitcher when the Angels let him become a free agent after the 2007 season. Wednesday night he returned to Anaheim with the Oakland Athletics and proved to his former team he has plenty left in his arm.
How about 38 consecutive strikes?
That’s what the Angels saw from the 38-year-old right-hander, who displayed the form he had in 2005 when he won a Cy Young Award with the Halos and finished with a career-high 21 victories. Colon scattered four hits, struck out five and walked none in a 6-0 victory.
“Bart was obviously a high-profile guy and he really competed well,” manager Mike Scioscia recalled. “He was slowed a little bit his last year here, but for the most part, he obviously pitched well enough to win a Cy Young Award. So that speaks volumes for his talent and what he meant to our club. The he went out there and pitched, he was mentoring for every pitcher here.”
Colon (3-1) threw 82 of his 108 pitches for strikes, so it wasn’t as though the Angels’ vaunted offense didn’t get anything good to hit.
Colon’s strike streak ended on an 0-1 pitch to Bobby Abreu with one out in the eighth after he gave up a pinch-hit ground-rule double by Erick Aybar — the only hitter to reach second base against Colon.
“I felt like I threw a lot of strikes, but I never thought I threw 38 in a row. I didn’t know anything about it until I came in here,” Colon said through a translator. “The two-seamer was the most consistent pitch that I had tonight. I feel good because I know that team has great players. You have to have confidence in yourself, because if you don’t, that’s when you have trouble.”
Colon’s dominance helped drop the Angels six games behind two-time defending AL champion Texas in the AL West — just 12 games into the season.
“Our offense has been a little bit spotty, and we need to get simple at the plate,” Scioscia said. “Some guys are starting to get into their game — but as a unit, we’re not finding that offensive chemistry. We just need to start to get a better direction of our own. But we have a good club. I really like this club.”
Albert Pujols’ season-opening home run drought reached 12 games and 49 at-bats. The three-time NL MVP was 1 for 4, including a sixth-inning drive that Cespedes caught at the edge of the warning track in left-center. The only other time in Pujols’ 12-year career that he went more than five games before hitting his first homer was 2008, when it took him nine games and 28 at-bats to do it.
“You’ve got to keep the ball down to him because his hands are so good and he’s so dangerous when the ball is up in the zone,” A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “So when you go up, you have to go higher than high, and when you go down, you just try to keep it out of the middle of the plate and mix speeds. If you try to get too cute with him and try to make a mistake, he’s going to punish it.”
Colon, whose three previous starts this season all were against Seattle, has walked only two batters in his first 27 1-3 innings and has made 18 consecutive starts with fewer than three — one off his longest such streak. The last time he issued more than two walks was July 7, 2011, when he had four against Tampa Bay.
STATS LLC said its pitch-by-pitch data goes back to 1988 — since then, the most consecutive strikes a pitcher has thrown is 30, by Tim Wakefield for Boston in 1998 against Cleveland.
“I can’t believe it,” Suzuki said. “I mean, against a team like the Angels when you look at their lineup, that’s going after guys and not being afraid to throw strikes. That’s what he did tonight — basically off heaters, too. He was just dialing.
“We tried to keep it going. And as the game goes on, you kind of figure out what’s working for him,” Suzuki added. “We got into a rhythm probably after the second inning. Bartolo knows where the ball’s going and he knows what he wants to do. He’s the kind of pitcher you need in the rotation to kind of stabilize it, and the kind that the other guys can lean on, with the young rotation we have.”
Colon won the 2005 AL Cy Young Award after helping lead the Angels to a division title with a 21-8 record and 3.48 ERA. The two-time All-Star is 3-2 with a 2.05 ERA in five starts against them since leaving the organization and signing with Boston as a free agent in February 2008.
“It’s a phenomenal feat, yet really not surprising out of him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of the 38 straight strikes. “I mean, I think he could throw a strike with his eyes closed if he had to. That’s the way he’s been for us. Granted they have a great lineup and you can never take a breather with it. But a guy like Bartolo has been around long enough to know that you’re going to throw strikes, not walk anybody and make them earn their way on.”
Yoenis Cespedes hit a three-run homer for Oakland, giving the Cuban-born rookie a team-leading 12 RBIs in his first 12 games.
Jonny Gomes added a solo shot for the A’s against Ervin Santana (0-3), who gave up four runs and seven hits over seven innings with five strikeouts. The Angels’ No. 3 starter is 5-7 with a 3.90 ERA in 14 starts since his no-hitter at Cleveland on July 27, and has a 6.75 ERA in his three starts this season.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)