A year ago, this was the kind of game you would have figured the Los Angeles Angels would lose. But then was then and now is now, and the Angels have flipped the script and the American League West standings, improving to 5-2 after a seven-run rally in the ninth inning on Sunday against the Seattle Mariners.
Elias Sports Bureau research shows that it was the first time the Angels won a game when trailing by at least six runs entering the ninth inning since Aug. 29, 1986, when they scored eight runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Detroit Tigers 13-12. That’s the only other such win in franchise history.
The two comeback victories share the common bond of being won by a middle infielder not known for his hitting, coming through against a closer with a reputation for being highly difficult to hit.
In 1986, it was shortstop Dick Schofield hitting a two-out grand slam against Tigers closer (and 1984 AL MVP) Willie Hernandez.
This time around, it was Cliff Pennington -- who slashed .209/.265/.308 last season and who took over at shortstop for Andrelton Simmons in the ninth inning -- singling against Mariners closer Edwin Diaz.
Sunday's contest also marked the first time the Angels scored seven or more runs in the bottom of the ninth inning since April 15, 1994. After the Toronto Blue Jays put up five runs to lead off the ninth, the Angels scored seven more to force extra innings and go on to win 14-13 in 10 innings.
You can see the improbability of how the inning went in the line graph below, which outlines the game’s biggest win probability swings.
The inning’s beginning might have foreshadowed the unlikely nature of what was to come. Albert Pujols’ fly ball to left carried and then carried some more over the fence. The home run was calculated at 405 feet, aided 23 feet by the wind. It would not have been a home run in any park under normal weather conditions (70 degrees, no wind).
This was a particularly stunning outing for Diaz, who entered with a 9-4 lead, and even though the bases were loaded, that had to feel like the pitcher was in lockdown mode, especially after Danny Espinosa grounded out and Martin Maldonado struck out. But a double, a wild pitch, two walks and two singles later and the Angels were winners.
Among the most improbable things to come from Diaz’s performance is that he threw nine sliders and netted only two strikes. He threw that pitch for a strike 73 percent of the time last season.
The Mariners fell to 1-6 for the season, a seven-game start matched in 1991 and 2004.
The Angels are 5-2 and are among the unlikely division leaders, along with the Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks. Those five teams were a combined 134 games under .500 last season. According to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, none of those teams had an Opening Day over/under higher than 79 wins for this season.