Bullpen hiccup sours Angels' comeback bid

Bullpen hiccup sours Angels' comeback bid

ANAHEIM -- It would've been a big win for an Angels team that badly needed one -- in the home opener, after dropping four of their first six games and hours after finding out they'd be without their ace for at least a month. C.J. Wilson had bounced back from a catastrophic first inning and the Angels had erased a four-run deficit late, looking primed for a statement victory against the streaking A's.

But Kevin Jepsen couldn't get those lefty hitters out.

The power right-hander gave up a three-run homer to pinch-hitter John Jaso and a two-run shot to Brandon Moss in the seventh, handing the A's a 9-5 victory in front of a desolate fan base at Angel Stadium.

"It's part of the game," Jepsen said. "That's kind of how I pitch -- I go and I attack guys. They know that, I know that. You miss over the heart of the plate, big league hitters tend to make you pay for it."

The prevailing question postgame was: Why was he given a chance?

With a man on first, two outs and a 5-4 lead on the scoreboard, lefty Scott Downs paved the way for Jepsen because manager Mike Scioscia wanted him to face the right-handed-hitting Yoenis Cespedes. Jepsen walked Cespedes on a 3-2 fastball that just missed the inside part of the plate -- "One of those borderline pitches," Jepsen said -- and then stayed in the game when Jaso replaced the right-handed-hitting Derek Norris.

Lefty Sean Burnett was available, but he didn't start warming up until after Moss' homer three batters later. Scioscia wanted to save Burnett for the eighth, and he said the sage lefty couldn't pitch more than one inning because of a blister he acquired in Sunday's finale in Texas. The blister was underneath the nail of his left middle finger, but Burnett said it was "a one-day thing" and was not affecting him on Tuesday.

"[Jepsen] was the guy to get out of that inning," said Scioscia, who didn't really have Garrett Richards available because he'll move to the starting rotation in place of Jered Weaver (broken left elbow). "The issue was not only the seventh inning, but the eighth inning."

Jaso's splits are pretty drastic against lefties (.169/.305/.234 slash line) and righties (.271/.368/.421), which is why he wasn't in the lineup against the southpaw Wilson. Jepsen, meanwhile, has had better success against righties (.297/.377/.384) than lefties (.241/.302/.315).

"When Jeppy's throwing like he can," Scioscia contested, "he can match up with anybody."

But he wasn't in that backbreaking seventh inning. Jepsen left a 95-mph fastball chest-high to Jaso, who hit it off the top and over the short wall in right field. Then, after giving up a single to Josh Donaldson, Jepsen threw Moss a 93-mph fastball over the middle of the plate, resulting in a two-run shot over the right-center-field scoreboard.

"We feel like we always have a chance to come back," said A's manager Bob Melvin, whose club has won six straight. "We keep grinding through the whole thing and sometimes you come up with games like that."

The game saw the Angels go scoreless in the first despite loading the bases with none out. It saw Albert Pujols get doubled up at first base in the third after Cespedes ran down Josh Hamilton's shot in the left-center-field gap. It saw the A's commit two critical errors -- a dropped fly ball by right fielder Chris Young and a booted grounder by shortstop Jed Lowrie -- in a three-run sixth inning that temporarily put the Angels ahead.

And it saw Wilson make quite the improbable comeback.

In the first, he allowed three runs, walked three batters, threw 43 pitches and prompted long reliever Jerome Williams to get up in the bullpen. To lead off the second, he gave up a homer to Coco Crisp and began hearing faint boos from the announced sellout crowd of 44,014.

Then suddenly he got in a groove, retiring 15 of the next 17 hitters he faced -- seven on strikeouts -- to get through six innings and keep his team in the game.

By the time the sixth inning finished, Wilson was lining up for the win.

Three innings later, the 32-year-old left-hander was reflecting on the Angels' fifth loss in seven games -- for a team that won't have Weaver for four to six weeks and badly needed a better April after a 6-14 start last season.

"It's funny, because last year when we lost, it was because we got shut out," Wilson said. "Early in the season, it seemed like we gave up a bunch of runs in the first couple innings and then we just didn't score at all. The offense is actually a lot more productive this year than it was last year, so you have to give credit to them to battle back and take the lead. But at the same time, it's a team sport, and we feel like we're definitely not hitting on all cylinders right now."

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