ANAHEIM, Calif. — He could have quit. Most guys probably would have. Cesar Puello was in his 10th minor league season, still waiting for his first call to the majors, when he was released by Texas’ Triple-A team in June.
Only the Los Angeles Angels gave him a call and the outfielder did not hesitate. He was back at Triple-A, this time with Salt Lake.
On a warm Wednesday afternoon, his unlikely dream came true.
Called up in the morning, Puello started for the Angels and drove in the go-ahead run in their 5-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
“I’m so happy for him,” Angels right-hander Troy Scribner said. “He works his butt off. I played with him quite a bit in Salt Lake and he’s just one of those guys who would literally run through a wall for you.
“He’s one of my favorite guys.”
Scribner (2-0) benefitted from Puello’s debut in his second start for the Angels. He held the Orioles to a solo homer by Wellington Castillo in his five innings.
“He kept those guys off-balance and got it to a point in the game where we could turn it over to our bullpen,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He did a great job. He had good stuff out there, moved it around, changed speeds. He did what he’s good at doing.”
The Orioles had won eight of their last 10 after winning the series opener against the Angels, but they dropped the last two, scoring a combined three runs.
“Every team does (struggle) when a team pitches well,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I’ll tip my hat to them. We had four hits today. They pitched well. They pitched well the most part for the whole series.”
The Angels led 2-1 after Puello’s single up the middle off right-hander Kevin Gausman’s glove in the fourth. Puello then stole two bases.
C.J. Cron added a two-run homer in the sixth and Zach Britton walked in a run in the eighth.
Gausman (8-8) went 5 1/3 innings, giving up four runs, eight hits and two walks.
“He was real good,” Showalter said. “He made one mistake trying to go up and in off the plate to Cron.”
Relievers Yusmeiro Petit, Keynan Middleton and Blake Parker held the Orioles scoreless over the final four innings.
Baltimore outfielder Joe Rickard was hit on the helmet by a fastball from Scribner in the sixth and left the game. Showalter said outside of a bruise above his left eye, he appeared all right.
“Thankfully, he’s OK,” Showalter said. “We’ll have an evaluation tomorrow and we’ll kind of have an idea of what to do. All indications are good right now.”
Said Scribner: “It was scary to watch it and I hope he’s OK. I hope I didn’t injure him. It looked like it got a lot of the helmet.”
Puello is 26, so he’s hardly a kid, but most players tend to have serious butterflies when they’re making their major league debuts. Still, he appeared remarkably at ease.
“I was relaxed,” Puello said. “I’ve been playing baseball for a long time. One thing I like to control is slow the game down and do what I gotta do.”
The Angels’ first baseman was off to such a slow start this season, twice he was sent down to the minors. But with three hits Wednesday he has 10 in his last 26 at-bats (.385) and 11 RBIs in his last 10 games.
“I felt confident the whole time,” Cron said. “Things weren’t great early on. Getting some consistent at-bats here has been nice. Now hopefully we can keep it going.”
Orioles: Activated DH Mark Trumbo (strained right rib cage) and optioned LHP Donnie Hall to Triple-A Norfolk. Trumbo started Wednesday against the Angels and went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
Angels: DH Albert Pujols was not injured but simply given the day off. … LHP Andrew Heaney’s next start is expected to be a final, and sixth rehab appearance, for Triple-A. Heaney had Tommy John surgery 13 months ago.
Orioles: LHP Wade Miley (5-9, 5.51 ERA) tries to get his season turned around when he opens a four-game series in Oakland on Thursday. He has gone 3-6 with an 8.55 ERA in his last 12 starts.
Angels: LHP Tyler Skaggs (1-2) is scheduled to make his second start since missing over three months with a strained oblique in Seattle on Thursday. In his first start back, he went four innings against the Athletics, allowing three runs, six hits and two walks.