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Williams, Angels inch back from brink

5/2/2012
Kelvin Kuo/US Presswire

ANAHEIM -- Jerome Williams is so quiet, you can barely hear him most of the time. He's so shy, he once went nearly two years without correcting the San Francisco Giants for calling him "Jeremy."

But Tuesday night he practically shouted encouragement to an anxious fan base and a doubt-riddled team. Williams had the finest pitching performance of the young season for the Angels in their 4-0 win over the Minnesota Twins, a shutout that was his first in nearly nine years and reinforced the notion that maybe, just maybe this team is as good as March hinted at, not as bad as April declared.

If Albert Pujols is going to continue to stay stuck on disappointing, if the offense is going to continue to sputter and the bullpen is going to continue to frustrate, this team has one choice if it wants to avoid taking on water and sinking its fans' mile-high hopes: smother teams with starting pitching.

If you have a No. 5 starter capable of pitching as well as Williams did Tuesday -- retiring 17 in a row at one point and allowing only five balls to leave the infield -- you're probably in pretty good shape in at least one department. It's a big department.

"Whether you're a lead dog or you're a fifth starter, we need good starts," manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's what we've been getting and Jerome has been pulling his share, that's for sure."

Williams has pitched on three continents and, seemingly, in half the leagues where baseball players are paid, all so he could do the kind of thing he did Tuesday night. Williams remembered that previous shutout, back on July 27, 2003 in San Francisco against the cross-Bay Oakland A's.

It's a little more rewarding now, after a path that meandered through Taiwan and took a sharp detour out of independent ball last June.

Frankly, it was refreshing to hear a little laughter in the Angels' clubhouse Tuesday night. They were giggles coming from three of Williams' small children, racing around the room playing tag. One of them, 2-year-old Tai, sat on Williams' lap as he spoke to reporters about his dominant performance.

Williams has long since lost the mid-90s fastball that got him taken in the first round back in 1999, but he found a cutter by accident when he was pitching in Sacramento a few years ago, throws a good sinker and occasionally, like Tuesday, has the kind of curveball that can make him look more like an ace than a reclamation project.

"I'm smarter," Williams said. "I learned the game. Instead of relying on stuff, I'm relying on what I need to do to be a pitcher -- location, the strike zone, different pitches, different mindset. Back then I was young, didn't want to listen to anybody, wanted to throw the ball by everybody. Now, I'm a pitcher."

So, they've got that going for them.