ANAHEIM, Calif. — A summer blockbuster starring Will Smith? Well, why not? Hollywood isn’t too far from here unless you’re driving.
This is just what the Royals needed.
Rookie left-hander Will Smith (yes, that one) worked seven masterful and wonderfully hopeful innings Tuesday night in a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium.
“He really got locked in in the fourth inning,” manager Ned Yost said. “Going in the fourth, he had thrown more balls than strikes. He was just wild enough that he was tough to hit. He then settled down and started commanding the ball.”
Smith, 2-3, permitted just one run and two hits — and all of it came in the first inning. It was even sweeter, perhaps, that it came against the Angels, who traded him to the Royals just over two years ago with pitcher Sean O’Sullivan for infielder Alberto Callaspo.
“I was so young that I didn’t know how to take it,” recalled Smith, who was in Class A at the time. “I had people tell me it was a good thing. I’m very happy here in Kansas City. We’ve got a great young corps here. I’m excited.”
Tuesday also served as a loud validation for the Royals’ decision to keep Smith in their rotation by shifting Everett Teaford to the bullpen following last Friday’s acquisition of Jeremy Guthrie from Colorado.
“This is my second opportunity,” said Smith, who made three big-league starts from May 23 to June 4. “My first time didn’t go too well. I went back to the minors and started working. I knew what I had to do to win here.
“It’s a little bit easier the second time around. I’ve been able to slow down the game better.”
Greg Holland replaced Smith to start the eighth, which provided him an opportunity to atone for Monday’s three-run meltdown in a 6-3 loss.
It didn’t start well when second baseman Chris Getz booted Jean Segura’s leadoff grounder for an error. But Holland got pinch-hitter Macier Izturis to ground into a double play — started by Getz.
“The last one was one of those outings you don’t want to have to sit on too long,” Holland admitted. “As a pitcher, especially a bullpen guy, you’ve got to be able to flush it out.”
Jonathan Broxton worked around two soft singles in the ninth inning before gaining his 23rd save in 27 opportunities. He then quipped: “Will gives up two hits in seven innings, and I gave up two hits in the ninth.”
The Royals clipped Angels starter Garrett Richards, 3-2, for two runs in the first inning and two more in the second in building an early 4-1 lead. Richards yielded nothing further before exiting after the fifth inning.
Smith and the bullpen made it stand up as the Royals won for just the sixth time in their last 22 games. Now all they have to do to win the three-game series is beat Jered Weaver in this afternoon’s finale.
It could have been worse for the Angels, who survived two injury scares.
Albert Pujols was hit in the right elbow on a swing and miss in third inning but remained in the game after an extended examination in front of the LA dugout.
Right fielder Torii Hunter suffered a bruised hip on a failed attempt at a diving catch on Eric Hosmer’s two-out drive in the sixth inning. Hosmer wound up with a triple. Hunter also underwent an on-field examination and, like Pujols, remained in the game.
The Royals jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Lorenzo Cain’s one-out homer after Alex Gordon’s leadoff double.
Cain just missed a homer to center Monday when Peter Bourjos pulled the ball back with a leap at the wall. This one easily cleared the left-field wall.
“Not tonight,” Cain said. “I pulled it a little bit and got it down the line. It’s 330 (feet) there — a little shorter than the 400 to center. He left a pitch up for me, and I was able to put a good swing on it. It definitely felt good.”
Smith gave one run right back in the Angels’ first and was lucky to limit it to that after Hunter ripped a one-out single up the middle and went to second on a four-pitch walk to Pujols.
Hunter scored on Mark Trumbo’s single into the left-field corner, but Smith avoided further damage when third baseman Mike Moustakas turned Howie Kendrick’s sharp grounder into a double play.
Smith then didn’t allow another hit in his seven innings. He struck out four and walked four in a 102-pitch effort.
“After the first inning,” he said, “I settled down and started making good pitches. Something just clicked. Some nights, it’s like that. You struggle through the first few innings with fastball command and then something clicks and it’s there.”
The Royals came back with two more runs in the second inning. Hosmer drew a one-out walk and moved to second on Chris Getz’s single into center. Gordon’s flare into left fell for an RBI single that moved Getz to third.
Getz scored for a 4-1 lead when Alcides Escobar avoided a double play by beating the relay on a grounder to short.