Michael Roth walked through San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon, enjoying the atmosphere of his third major league road trip. It was his 18th day with the Los Angeles Angels on one of the unlikeliest minor league callups this season.
Nothing in his life equaled this experience — a whirlwind that included a borrowed suit from Albert Pujols, a historic game, newfound money and common rookie stumbles, mixed with the baffling, junk-balling success that made him a legend at South Carolina.
As he prepared to catch the team bus across the San Francisco Bay for Tuesday night's game at the Oakland Athletics, Roth remained typically candid, and understood this ride might soon end.
“If I don't start pitching better, I may be sent down tomorrow,” he said in a telephone interview.
Roth, 23, didn't have to wait that long. Before Tuesday's game, the Angels sent him back to their Double-A team in Little Rock, Ark. His statistics during the callup were not great: a 9.31 ERA, 10 strikeouts, three walks and 1-1 record in 92/3 innings over six relief appearances and one start. He believes he did enough to warrant consideration for another callup. But even five days after he was promoted, he knew this experience could be fleeting.
“If I never made it back up, I still could say that I made it here,” he said in mid-April.
Anybody who expected Roth to ever pitch in the big leagues could never have envisioned it happening so quickly. Many figured it wouldn't happen at all. Some still wonder if it will again.
“It's definitely nice to prove people wrong who said I would never make it here,” he said. “I think I've shown that I can pitch at this level. I've gotten some good baseball players out.”
The Angels drafted him in the ninth round last year after his senior season and third consecutive trip to the College World Series. They gave him a $20,000 signing bonus — well shy of the $125,900 that Major League Baseball recommends for his draft position. Pitchers like Roth whose fastballs peak in the mid-80s typically don't stick in the big leagues. In rookie ball last summer, Roth had a 4.91 ERA in 22 innings. He made one Double-A appearance this year, a scoreless five-inning start, before his promotion to the Angels.
He didn't believe the news until he saw the flight itinerary in his manager's office at a ballpark in Frisco, Texas. He texted his family. His dad didn't believe him at first either. From there, his first day in the big leagues blurred. He flew to Anaheim, sitting in first class for the first time. He walked into the Angels' home clubhouse, with a team gofer carrying his bag. He dressed alongside Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton.
The Angels have poured money into those sluggers and neglected pitching. So when pitcher Kevin Jepsen went on the disabled list April 13, Roth was immediately called up — and thrust into a game on his first day. He pitched two perfect relief innings against Houston, struck out four and got the win. The team gave him the game ball, lineup card and scorecard. Two days later, the Angels had to play in Minnesota, and Roth didn't have a team-mandated suit for the road trip because he packed only T-shirts for his Double-A trip from Little Rock to Frisco. So there was Roth, boarding the team's charter flight while wearing his own casual loafer shoes, and a slightly oversized suit that belonged to a future Hall of Famer — Pujols.
“He told me to keep it,” Roth said.
To Pujols, April trips are routine. For Roth, they provided stories that he can tell forever, regardless of where baseball takes him from here.
On pregame walks to the bullpen, Roth wore the usual rookie hazing attire: a sparkly, sequined child's backpack and WWE Divas Championship replica belt. In Minnesota, for his second appearance, he pitched in 30-degree weather, his coldest game ever, and faced Joe Mauer, who singled.
When Tommy Hanson briefly left the team because of a death in his family, Roth got his first start April 24 against Texas, opposite Yu Darvish. Roth's mom and sister were in Anaheim to see it. In Roth's final appearance Monday, he threw an inning in a 19-inning loss at Oakland — the longest game in Angels' history.
Through three scoreless innings of his start, Roth had acquitted himself well against big league hitters. In eight innings over four-plus outings, he had allowed seven hits and two runs, while walking one and striking out eight. Then Texas' first five batters in the fourth inning reached base — three singles, two walks. Roth was finished after 31/3 innings, and credited with five runs. In his final appearance, he allowed three hits and three runs in three innings.
“If you make a mistake in Double-A, they might hit that,” he said. “Here (in the big leagues), you just get away with less mistakes.”
Now he returns to Double-A, where his next appearance will be his 20th as a pro. He enjoys minor league ball more than he thought he would, especially after decompressing following a long 2012 season of college ball and tedious rookie league bus trips. He has an international business degree and could probably make more money from a real world job, but said he “realized that maybe this is something I want to do for a while.”
Plus, he has made a solid wage playing ball. He earned the major league minimum while with the Angels. For two weeks, that is $40,833. Not bad for throwing 176 pitches to 45 batters.
First-year Double-A players make $1,500 every two weeks. Roth remains on the Angels' 40-man roster, so he will now earn $3,325 every two weeks.
“Now I'm on an income where I can do a little bit more,” Roth said Tuesday during his stroll through San Francisco, shortly before he was demoted.
Though the end of his first big-league adventure disappointed him, it did not deter his hopes for another opportunity at this level, nor dampen a goofy sense of humor that once enlivened his already prolific USC career.
“Prostitute on the street just asked if I was a male model,” he wrote on his Twitter account (@mtRoth29) soon after being sent back to the minors. “Thanks, honey, I needed that ego boost. I threw her a $5 bill.”