Angels drop the ball in weird loss to A's

Angels drop the ball in weird loss to A's

OAKLAND -- The old cliche 'Keep your eye on the ball.' has scarcely been more pertinent.

Francisco Rodriguez stabbed and missed at a throw back from catcher Jose Molina with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Jason Kendall raced home from third with the winning run on Thursday, turning McAfee Coliseum into the Angels' personal house of horrors.

The mental gaffe by Rodriguez capped the second straight collapse by the Angels' bullpen and led to a 5-4 loss Thursday afternoon as the A's won their third in as many series against the Halos this season, while taking sole possession of first place in the American League West for the first time this year.

"I have not seen a game end like that," said Paul Byrd, whose six shutout innings were rendered moot. "That was a very unusual end to a very good game. It is a gift. It is disappointing. We didn't make them earn it."

The Angels bullpen allowed all five runs Thursday, eight in the last two days and 10 of the 11 runs scored by the A's in the three-game set to turn a promising trip to Oakland into a disappointing series.

Brendan Donnelly set the table for the A's comeback when he took over for Byrd in the bottom of the seventh with a 4-0 lead.

Jay Payton hammered the first pitch to dead-center field for his 12th home run of the season and provided some dramatic irony on the day. It was also in the seventh inning that the A's staged a go-ahead rally in Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Angels.

Donnelly stumbled during his delivery on the pitch to Payton, requiring the grounds crew to repair a slight divot on the front of the mound. Mark Ellis and Kendall followed with a pair of base hits, but Donnelly appeared to regain his command as he retired both Mark Kotsay and Bobby Crosby.

Eric Chavez then jumped on an 0-1 fastball and drove it into the right-field seats for his 20th home run of the year, tying the score at 4.

Like Scot Shields a day earlier, Donnelly entered the game well-rested. Thursday was his first appearance in the last six days and only his third in the last 11. The right-hander admitted to being a bit erratic.

"The bottom line is, I threw some good pitches and some bad ones," Donnelly said. "The good ones got hit and the bad ones got crushed."

Shields, whose three runs Wednesday included a wild pitch for the A's fourth run of the game, made an appearance in Thursday and had an easy eighth before allowing a leadoff single in the ninth. Shields then allowed Kendall to reach on a fielder's choice and gave up a single to Kotsay before handing the ball over to Rodriguez.

The Angels closer quickly got an out when Crosby bounced into a fielder's choice, bringing Chavez to the plate. Rodriguez threw a slider that both he and Molina thought was a good pitch, but home plate umpire Mike DiMuro didn't flinch.

After a momentary pause, Molina softly tossed the ball back to Rodriguez, who swatted at the ball with his glove in apparent disgust, while looking away. The ball ticked off the web of his mitt, skipped off the back of the mound and rolled toward second base.

Rodriguez stood in disbelief before chasing after the ball and making a throw that was too wide and perhaps too late to nail Kendall, who slid home with the winning run.

"I lost it; that was easy. It was a throw that even a 5-year old could catch," Rodriguez said. "We lost the game, but what can I do? I am embarrassed, but I have to get over it and move on to the next day."

Many of the principles involved didn't see the play. Chavez was unclear of the situation while manager Mike Scioscia was about to ask DiMuro where the pitch was. But Kendall put an old lesson to work and stole a victory in the process.

"I was just watching where the ball went," Kendall said. "That is one thing my dad always taught me: Always keep your eye on the ball."

Everyone could agree on one thing: It was a first.

"I've never seen that," Scioscia said. "You have to see it to believe it."

Like Ervin Santana on Wednesday, Byrd pitched well enough to win and left the game with a lead, handing the ball to what has been a reliable bullpen all season. But as they did in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium to end July, the bullpen broke down and kicked away some critical games.

Shields (7-8) was saddled with his second straight loss and saw his record in Oakland fall to 0-5.

Now, the Angels have been caught and passed by an A's team that is the hottest in baseball, a team that waited for the Angels to make mistakes in the series before capitalizing. Much of the Halos' success has been built on the bullpen, and the team was resolute in their support for Rodriguez and all the relievers.

"I would never be irritated at that guy. Are you kidding me?" Darin Erstad said of Rodriguez. "He is a great player, a great person and a great teammate. We've been through fire with this group. The bullpen is the least of our worries."

In yet another replay of Wednesday, the Angels appeared in control of things after a solo homer by Vladimir Guerrero in the top of the second, an RBI double by Adam Kennedy in the third and a two-run double by Steve Finley in the seventh to build a 4-0 lead. But they couldn't hang on.

"We cracked the door open," Scioscia said. "The bullpen has been there all year, but they've struggled in the last couple of games. [The A's] came up and took it from us."

In the end, it was the A's that played through the final pitch.

"Sometimes, it pays off to pay attention," A's manager Ken Macha said.

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.