by Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
Taylor Ward wasn’t really sure what to do. Most of the Angels players on the bench didn’t know what to do.
Dodgers pitcher Garrett Cleavinger wasn’t sure what to do — he was standing on the mound asking for another ball.
But there wasn’t another ball to be pitched.
Nearly everyone except the umpires had forgotten that both teams had agreed to only play eight innings in this Freeway Series opener, played in front of no fans at Angels Stadium in Anaheim.
Ward rounded the bases and jumped on home plate with both feet, arms in the air, in a lonesome celebration because his teammates didn’t come out to celebrate with him.
Ward had just belted a 2-0 four-seamer from Cleavinger 390 feet into the right-field bleachers for a walk-off home run, a homer that saved this game from being the only tie in Freeway Series history.
The Angels won it, 6-5.
“I knew I had hit it out, we were ahead, but to be honest I wasn’t really sure that we had won either until I saw the ump waving everybody off the field,” Ward said.
Angels manager Joe Maddon laughed afterward: “Yep, the old walk-off eight-inning home run. It’s beautiful.”
It was somewhat of a bittersweet blast for Ward, who had two hits after replacing Mike Trout in the sixth. Despite batting .400 this spring with three homers — one of the top Angels’ hitters of the spring — Ward didn’t make the Opening Roster and will spend the beginning of the season at Triple-A Salt Lake.
It was a good game all around for the Angels, except possibly for left-hander Andrew Heaney, who started and gave up three of the defending world champion Dodgers’ four home runs.
All three homers were hit by left-handed batters — first baseman Max Muncy, second baseman Gavin Lux and shortstop Corey Seager — and the Angels trailed 4-2 after three innings.
Heaney gave up four earned runs in 2.2 innings and 68 pitches, swelling his spring ERA to 7.41. He struck out five Dodgers, though.
“I left a few pitches up, and they’re good hitters, so that’s generally what they’re going to do,” Heaney said. “Oh man, it’s definitely a good test, I’d say this is probably one of the best offensive lineups we’ll be facing this year.
“I know the results weren’t great. You make mistakes against a good lineup like this, they’re going to punish you. I had good stuff, I just wasn’t located as well as I need to.”
Heaney was painting corners with his fastball at 94-95 mph but when he used his curve, changeup and slider, he got in trouble. He struck out Mookie Betts on a good changeup in the first, but Seager smoked an elevated slider for a majestic 441-foot homer in the third.
Maddon said, “Overall, he’s fine. Probably just a little off on his location. We’ll work that out.”
The Angels pulled to within 4-4 when they executed a beautiful hit-and-run play in the fourth.
Dexter Fowler got on with a single with one out, then leadoff hitter David Fletcher executed a perfect opposite-field single to chase Fowler around to third. Trout then dropped a base hit into right field to the tie up the game.
“When you give Fletch that much of a hole (by holding the runner on), he can take advantage of it,” Maddon said. “The first-to-third play is a wonderful weapon.”
Griffin Canning pitched two innings and gave up a run and the Angels trailed 5-4 going into the bottom of the seventh, when outfielder Juan Lagares tied it up for the Halos with a homer to straight-away center field off Dodger reliever James Pazos.
Mike Mayers struck out the side and Raisel Iglesias struck out two at the tail-end of the Angels bullpen.
Shohei Ohtani will be the starting pitcher and and will be in the batting order as well for the Angels when they shift to Dodger Stadium for the second game of the Freeway Series on Monday.
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