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So It’s Come To This

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Janson Junk—no making fun of his name! I won't stand for it!—started and pitched five scoreless innings for the Angels on Wednesday, as they beat the Royals 4-0 in the rubber match of a three-game series. It was the first big-league win of the 26-year-old's career, and he pitched great in it: Eight strikeouts, one walk, 86 pitches, four hits, none for extra bases.

I do not want to dump on Janson Junk. He pitched very well and it is nice and heartwarming when a guy who has toiled in the minors for several years finally records what I'm sure was a lifelong goal of his—that first big league win!—even in the context of the rightfully small value placed on pitcher wins in baseball today. I'm sincerely happy for Janson Junk!

A sort of bleak thing that happens probably once a summer, though, with baseball's more intractably shitty clubs—the Orioles, the Rockies, the Royals, you get the idea—is some pitcher of no special pedigree and no particularly bright prospects putting together a nice outing, perhaps in a call-up spot start, like Junk on Wednesday, and the team's battered, deprived exponents, possibly up to and including national media, seizing on it with spiral-eyed rapture, as a shining beacon pointing the way to a brighter future, like a starving man weeping with ecstasy over the first bite of a ... well, I don't want to be rude, here. A bologna sandwich, let's say. There is nothing wrong with a bologna sandwich! I like a bologna sandwich. The hysterics over that particular bologna sandwich—reading into that bologna sandwich not just a tasty bite of food but a signpost on the path to a future of plenty—tell you next to nothing about the bologna sandwich, and everything about the starving man.

Nobody in particular makes this happen, consciously, or anyway I don't think so. Nobody is out there calling a huddle among fans and local broadcasters and team honchos and going, Gas this one up on three. Ready? Break! Everybody is just desperate for something, anything, that can sustain a moment of optimism. I remember, in the acutely desolate period after Mike Mussina left Baltimore for the Yankees, people trying to make themselves excited about a call-up pitcher for the Orioles named Josh Towers, who was young-ish but not especially young, who had not been a hot prospect for the organization or a star in the minors, who did not throw any good pitches or throw them with more than passable accuracy or placement, who was not particularly durable an innings-eater, who was not even having much success to speak of. He was just ... he just existed. He was a bologna sandwich, and everybody was very famished. People talked about him like he was the bright future for a few minutes, and then by the end of the following season he was back in the minors.

This is fine, really, and even kind of sweet; baseball is better for the space its endless regular season allows for these minor human dramas and personal triumphs. And Janson Junk may very well be a lot better than Josh Towers; maybe I just insulted the shit out of him. For that matter, maybe he will turn out to be a late-arriving Roger Clemens and I will look like a real dumbass for having written the preceding two paragraphs. But man, it just kind of hits different to see this type of cheesy, desperate excitement ...

But even the most optimistic Angels observers would have had a hard time envisioning that Junk would wade through the Royals' lineup as convincingly as he did.


With recent strong outings by young pitchers such as Reid Detmers, José Suarez and Junk, the Angels are starting to feel positive vibes about their mound prospects moving forward.

“It [the future] is bright,” Nevin said. “With the development we’ve been doing with them, it looks great.”

... around a quadruple-A guy having a good start for the team with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani on it. It's come to this, for the Angels: The rich huge-market club that employs what I feel perfectly safe calling two of the greatest baseball players who ever lived, and the wider community of people who want to feel excited about that team, are making a golly-gosh season highlight out of a 26-year-old former 22nd-round draft pick pitching five good innings to help them peel a July three-gamer off of the Kansas City Royals. Wednesday's great news for the Los Angeles Angels was Janson Junk pitching five innings and Trout's career probably not being over. They're only 21.5 games back in their division!

Putting Mike Trout and Shohei on a team together wasn't supposed to go anything like this! I demand a reset on the whole thing. Take the cartridge out and blow on it.

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