In stinging loss, Angels can't find their way home

In stinging loss, Angels can't find their way home

In stinging loss, Angels can't find their way home
ANAHEIM -- Every loss hurts, especially when it's this late in the season and you're still on the outside looking on.

But Tuesday's will leave a mark for the Angels, not just because it came with three weeks left in the regular season, or because they fell to the Wild Card-leading A's, or because it gave them two defeats to start this critical four-game series.

It hurt most because they had so many chances to win it.

In falling by a 6-5 score, the Angels went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, fell victim to a rare Torii Hunter error and failed to score twice with runners on the corners and nobody out. It happened in the bottom of the first and, immediately after they had cut their deficit from three to one, it happened in the bottom of the ninth.

"We had opportunities to move the baseball and score runs all night, but we couldn't do it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We ended up paying a price for that."

Down three in the bottom of the ninth, the Angels rallied against A's closer Grant Balfour, getting back-to-back leadoff walks by Chris Iannetta and Mike Trout, then back-to-back RBI singles by Hunter and Albert Pujols.

But with runners on the corners, none out and his team holding on to a one-run lead, lefty Jerry Blevins struck out Kendrys Morales on a 1-2 two-seamer on the outside corner, then got Howie Kendrick to bounce into a game-ending 5-4-3 double play with the same two-seamer on the inner half.

"I was just looking for a pitch over the plate and that was a close pitch," said Kendrick, who came in 0-for-4 in his career against Blevins. "You can't take pitches that are close, especially with two strikes. I put a good swing on it. It just happened to be right at the third baseman."

The speedy Peter Bourjos had come in to pinch-run for Pujols immediately after he singled, but was never able to steal second to take away the double play.

"We were trying," Scioscia said. "We were looking for an opportunity. But especially against a lefty, it's going to be a first move, and we just didn't get a count to do it on and those guys got the double-play ball they needed."

"So far in my career, that's my biggest moment and most exciting," Blevins added. "I think that even trumps my debut."

For the Angels, this may trump the Aug. 1 game in Texas -- when they blew a one-run lead in the ninth and a three-run lead in the 10th - as their most gut-wrenching defeat of the season.

They came into this series as the hottest team in baseball, reeling off six straight wins and posting a Major League-best 15-3 record since Aug. 20. But with now 20 games left, the Angels have fallen to 2 1/2 back of the second American League Wild Card spot, while the A's, winners of five straight after being swept by the Angels in Oakland last week, are now 4 1/2 games better.

Jerome Williams, making a spot start after serving as a long reliever since late July, lasted only 3 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on five hits in a 66-pitch outing.

"Two mistakes: Cespedes and Moss," said Williams, referring to the solo homer he gave up to Yoenis Cespedes in the second and the two-run shot he gave up to Brandon Moss in the fourth. "Pitches were up, and they capitalized on it."

For a second straight night, the Angels couldn't capitalize against an A's rookie starter.

One night after Jarrod Parker pitched seven innings of one-run ball, Dan Straily -- making his first start since mid-August, in place of Brandon McCarthy -- gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings and at one point retired nine straight batters.

That streak ended in the seventh, when Hunter hit a solo shot into the rock pile in left-center field to make it a 4-3 game, forcing the A's to go to their bullpen.

But in the top of the ninth, he gave at least one run back with his fourth error of the season.

With Cliff Pennington on first and two outs, Coco Crisp laced a line drive down the right-field line against Kevin Jepsen, bringing in one run with a triple and coming around to score a second after the ball trickled past Hunter in the corner.

The veteran right fielder called it a "do-or-die play."

"He hit it hard," Hunter said. "There's not too many balls that hit that corner because I cut it off. If I sit back and wait, and let it hit that corner, he gets a triple and the run scores, so it's 5-3 regardless. So I had to get in and try to cut it off, and he hit it so hard, before I knew it he was sunk in."

But that wasn't what hurt the Angels most.

It was that Trout was on third and Hunter was on first to start the game, but Pujols hit a shallow pop-up, and Morales and Kendrick struck out swinging. Or that Iannetta was on third and Trout was on first with one out in the second, but Hunter struck out and Pujols flied out again. Or that Kendrick reached to start the eighth, but Erick Aybar popped up a bunt attempt and nobody else did anything.

And that the Angels came all the way back, putting themselves in prime position to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, but couldn't put together that final at-bat.

"We had chances, man," Hunter said. "We just didn't take advantage of it."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.