Detroit – His favorite Tiger growing up in Trenton was Cecil Fielder. Being just 20 minutes away, he'd come to games both at Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park. He even pitched to a couple of hitters in a high school all-star game at Comerica Park before going off to Eastern Michigan University.
"I was definitely a big Tigers fan growing up, but not anymore," said Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker.
Shoemaker took a huge step toward reviving what has been a sagging sophomore season Thursday, blanking the Tigers on just one hit over 7.1 innings in the Angels 2-0 win.
"Incredibly special," he said. "Family, friends, tons of them here. It means a lot, definitely special, but more importantly getting the win for the ball club."
Shoemaker, who was just recalled from a brief, one-outing, get-your-act-together start at Triple-A Salt Lake, had good command of his 93 mph fastball and a devastating splitter – the one that helped him finish second in the rookie of the year balloting last season.
"I would say that's Version 2.0, but it's not," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It just looks retooled from what we saw last year. That's as good as it gets from Matt. That's a tough lineup to go through and you can't say enough about the adjustments that he made."
In the two starts before he was sent down, Shoemaker had allowed 13 runs in 7.1 innings, including four homers. He'd given up 21 home runs in 117.1 innings this season. But the Tigers couldn't touch him.
No. 9 hitter Anthony Gose was the only Tiger to reach base against him, but he never made it second. He singled with two outs in the third and was promptly picked off on a back-throw by catcher Carlos Perez. It was the fourth time Gose was picked off this season.
Gose walked with two outs in the sixth and was caught stealing. It was the 10th time Gose has been caught stealing this season.
"He was wildly effective, to me at least," Tigers Tyler Collins said. "He'd miss, miss and then paint one, then miss really bad and paint another. It was hard to get comfortable against him."
Still, Scioscia pulled Shoemaker with one out and nobody on in the eighth inning.
"Matt had, I don't think he was getting tired, but he hasn't been in this pitch count in a while (95), especially with guys that can drive the ball out of the park coming up," he said. "And I think that Joe was there, and Joe's sinker can get you some groundballs.
"It didn't quite work that way but he was able to keep guys in the park and get outs."
Reliever Joe Smith gave up a triple to J.D. Martinez on his first pitch. But he struck out Nick Castellanos and retired Alex Avila on a grounder to second to end the only threat the Tigers mustered.
Shoemaker gave credit to pitching coach Mike Butcher and Salt Lake pitching coach Erik Bennett for getting him back on track.
"This is a game of inches, millimeters, whatever you want to say," he said. "Mechanically, just getting my timing back and getting my body where it needs to be, the right positioning. Both of them really helped me a lot work on that."
Tigers veteran lefty Randy Wolf was just about as stingy, allowing five singles through seven innings. He faced just one over the minimum through five innings.
"Randy gave us a great chance to win the game," Victor Martinez said. "Offensively, we just couldn't do anything."
With two outs in the sixth, Wolf walked Kole Calhoun – his first walk in two starts with the Tigers – and then Mike Trout. Albert Pujols made him pay, ripping a two-strike single to left to score Calhoun.
"The only thing I'd take back is the two-out walk," Wolf said. "I really didn't want to give in too much, but I didn't need to throw a slider off the plate there."
He fell behind Trout and wasn't about to give in to him, either.
"And I got away with a mistake to Pujols, to tell you the truth," he said. "Threw a four-seamer that cut across the plate. I was trying to go up and away and it went middle in. So I actually caught a break with that ball and only getting the one run. Other than that I felt good."
The Tigers had a play on Calhoun at the plate but Tyler Collins throw from left short-hopped catcher Alex Avila and he couldn't pick it and apply the tag. The ball caromed to Wolf behind the plate and he threw out Pujols trying to get to second.
The Angels got the second run in the ninth off closer Bruce Rondon on a sacrifice fly by Shane Victorino. Rondon had loaded the bases by walking Pujols and giving up singles to C.J. Cron and Erick Aybar.
"We've got to flush it," Collins said. "We've got to get ready to go to Toronto. The bats have been hot lately. I'm not worried about that."