Through 15 pitches from Haeger, the Angels' hitters collectively had swung the bat one time. Ten of those pitches were called balls, so there was no reason for Mike Scioscia's crew to budge.
After one inning, Haeger still had a no-hitter intact. But he already had walked three hitters. By the time Haeger was lifted in the fifth, the right-hander had thrown 113 pitches and only 61 for strikes, and the Angels were well on their way to breaking an eight-game losing streak to the White Sox.
Such is the life of a knuckleball specialist.
When he's good, he's almost unhittable. When the knuckleball isn't dancing in the zone, he's starting for the White Sox at 7:05 p.m. CT and headed back to Triple-A Charlotte three hours and 15 minutes later. With Haeger rejoining the Knights' rotation, where he has a 3-0 record and 0.68 earned run average, Brandon McCarthy slides into the starting five for the White Sox Monday afternoon in the Metrodome.
McCarthy was billed as the long reliever/sixth starter coming into the 2006 season but had not been stretched out enough to replace Jose Contreras on Wednesday. McCarthy's four innings in relief against the Angels, not to mention his 54 pitches, were enough to convince manager Ozzie Guillen that he's ready for a viable starting opportunity -- even if it is for only one outing.
"I can't imagine Jose is down for too long," said McCarthy, who allowed two runs on two hits, but struck out three. More importantly, he proclaimed his body and arm healthy after his longest outing of 2006. "If that's what they need from me, even if it's a temporary thing, then that's fine."
"We stretched Mac today and we'll work all week to get him ready to start the next game," Guillen added.
The Angels jumped out to a 6-0 lead, with four runs in the third and two in the fifth. The big blow of the two rallies came from Garret Anderson, who cleared the bases in the third with a double to right-center.
But despite being held hitless until the fifth by Ervin Santana (3-1), the White Sox actually put the go-ahead run on base with two outs in the seventh. After Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi delivered RBI singles, cutting the advantage to 6-5, reliever Scot Shields struck out Jim Thome to strand runners at first and third.
Brian Anderson, whose two hits raised his average to .176, cut the Angels' lead in half with a three-run home run to right-center in the fifth.
"He tried to blow one by me, but I stayed through it, didn't pull off and tried not to do too much," said Anderson, who now has four home runs and 10 RBIs. "[Santana] has electric stuff. To get a hit off of him, I'm really pumped up about it."
Francisco Rodriguez (10th save) kept the tying run at second in the eighth when he struck out Joe Crede to end the inning. The Angels gave Rodriguez plenty of room to work with in the ninth, scoring six times off of McCarthy, Bobby Jenks and Matt Thornton.
Guillen replaced reliever Neal Cotts with Jenks after Cotts struck out Garret Anderson, the only batter he faced. Jenks proceeded to allow three runs to score on consecutive hits from Tim Salmon and Juan Rivera.
With McCarthy moving back into the starting rotation, holding out hope to reach 70 pitches against the Twins on Monday, the White Sox will call up a reliever prior to Thursday's game. Guillen wants a pitcher who can eat up a few innings, and he has plenty of options.
Left-hander Javier Lopez (0.54 ERA) and right-handers Jeff Farnsworth (3-0, 1.62) and Agustin Montero (0.73 ERA) have been dominant for Charlotte. Sean Tracey (3-0, 2.35) started Tuesday for the Knights, but he certainly could handle a middle relief role. The same can be said for veteran Tim Redding, despite his 4.53 ERA in 43 2/3 innings.
The decision was to be made by general manager Ken Williams, Guillen and director of player development Dave Wilder. Meanwhile, Haeger returns to Charlotte with a valuable lesson learned.
Regardless of what pitch you feature, throwing strikes takes precedence above all else.
"I think I was doing what I was doing in Charlotte. I just wasn't getting it over the plate," Haeger said. "Any time you are not throwing strikes against Major League hitters, they are going to hurt you. I just have to be able to locate it, which is true wither you are throwing 110 or 65 [mph]."
"He was rushing in the beginning and his stuff no was there," Guillen added. "But I told him that no matter who you are, you have to throw more strikes."