Kubitza makes amends
He gets a key RBI a night after unsure debut. Pujols passes Mantle on homer list.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As he tried to put Kyle Kubitza’s shaky major league debut in perspective, Angels third-base coach Gary DiSarcina, the former shortstop, recalled his own wobbly baby steps as a big leaguer, his first plate appearance coming on May 21, 1990, in Cleveland, and his first start the following night.
“My first at-bat, my legs were shaking,” DiSarcina said. “In the field, I didn’t want the ball hit to me. I was so young. It’s your first big league game. It’s what you dreamed of your whole life. I’m sure nerves were a factor for Kyle [Wednesday night]. He’ll be OK.”
Kubitza was more than OK on Thursday night, the
third baseman redeeming himself with the biggest hit of a three-run seventh inning that propelled the Angels to a 6-2, come-from-behind victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Kubitza’s run-scoring single off reliever Kevin Jepsen tied the score, 2-2. Kubitza also walked in the ninth and scored on Albert Pujols’ 537th career homer, which gave the Angels a 6-2 lead and moved the slugger past Mickey Mantle and into sole possession of 16th place on baseball’s all-time list.
“That’s baseball,” said Kubitza, who was called up from triple A to replace the injured David Freese on Wednesday. “You can strike out three or four times one night and come back the next night and get three or four hits. You’ve got to turn the page once the new day starts.”
That was one heavy page to turn Wednesday night. Kubitza made a pair of mental errors, in the field and on the basepaths, that cost the Angels one run and maybe two in a 4-2 loss to the Rays.
Asked if he got over the game quickly, Kubitza looked toward the ceiling with a pained look on his face.
“Uh … I couldn’t watch too many replays, I can say that,” Kubitza said. “My brother, my agent, my wife, they all told me to let it go. A lot of the guys in here helped.”
Manager Mike Scioscia spoke to Kubitza about his mistakes Wednesday night and tried to infuse some humor into the situation Thursday.
“We were talking about it, almost joking, like, ‘It can’t be any worse than yesterday, so go get ’em,’ ” Scioscia said. “He seemed fine pregame.”
Kubitza was robbed of a hit in his first at-bat when Rays first baseman Nick Franklin made a diving stop of his grounder in the third, and Kubitza struck out swinging in the fifth.
The Angels were trailing, 2-1, in the seventh when .183-hitting Matt Joyce led off with a walk off Jepsen, the former Angels reliever who was traded to Tampa Bay for Joyce last winter.
Efren Navarro reached on an in- field single. Scioscia could have brought Taylor Featherston off the bench to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but he instead let .164-hitting Chris Iannetta bat.
Iannetta struck out looking at a pitch below his knees. On the plus side for the Angels, he did not hit into a double play. Kubitza then grounded a full-count pitch into right field to score Joyce for a 2-2 tie and advance Navarro to third.
Erick Aybar followed with an RBI fielder’s-choice grounder to the right side off Brad Boxberger for a 3-2 lead. Aybar stole second and Mike Trout, who lined a solo homer to left in the sixth — his 17th of the season — doubled to left to score Aybar for a 4-2 lead.
“I think it’s what we would expect from that young man,” Scioscia said of Kubitza, who was acquired from Atlanta last winter and tabbed as Freese’s heir apparent in 2016. “He presented himself well in spring training and was playing well at Salt Lake.
“You have a feeling that when he gets his feet on the ground, he’s going to be a really good player. He bounced back tonight and had some huge at-bats for us. … That’s what experience does for you. He didn’t let [Wednesday night’s game] affect him. That’s what has to happen.”