Offense sputters against Milone, first-place A's

Offense sputters against Milone, first-place A's

Offense sputters against Milone, first-place A's

OAKLAND -- The first run allowed by Scott Downs in nearly three months wound up costing the Angels a critical game on Saturday.

Nursing a one-run lead with one on and one out in the seventh, Downs was brought in with the left-handed-hitting Stephen Vogt due up, and A's skipper Bob Melvin countered with the right-handed-hitting Derek Norris. And the first pitch Norris saw -- a sinker that grooved right out over the plate -- was laced over the left-field fence for the two-run homer that proved to be the difference in the Angels' 3-1 loss at Coliseum.

The Angels are now six games below .500, 4-5 since the All-Star break and 12 behind the first-place A's in the American League West. They've dropped two of the first three in this make-or-break seven-game road trip, which will conclude from Oakland on Sunday and take them to Texas for three games next week.

And they're not quite sure where to go from here.

"It [stinks]," said Josh Hamilton, who provided the only run for an Albert Pujols-less offense with a rare homer off a lefty. "I mean, there's not much I can tell you. It's one of those things where we're going out, competing, doing what we can. Obviously it would help if I could pick it up, but overall, it's not like we're going out there laying down. We're playing how we want to play, and it's hard. You have to do all the things -- pitching, hitting, playing defense. We've done that in spurts, but really haven't been consistent with it on a day-in, day-out basis. And that's what it's going to take."

Sept. 25 was the last time Downs had given up a homer or three hits in an outing. On Saturday, he did both -- also surrendering a two-out single to Coco Crisp and an RBI double to Jed Lowrie -- and snapped a 29-appearance scoreless streak that was one shy of the franchise record.

"All streaks come to an end," Downs said. "I don't really think about all that. I just think about going out and making pitches and keeping our team in the game. Unfortunately today, I got one up and [Norris] took care of it."

Garrett Richards, replacing Joe Blanton in the rotation and making his first start since April 30, shut the A's out through the first five innings of a 78-pitch outing. Dane De La Rosa recorded the next four outs. But Angels manager Mike Scioscia noted De La Rosa was getting "a little bit tired" when he gave up a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh, so one batter later -- after getting a forceout at second on a sac-bunt attempt -- he went to the fresh arm of Downs.

The result was Norris' first hit in 15 career pinch-hit appearances.

"We all know I haven't had the most success pinch-hitting over my career, but just talking with some of the guys, sometimes it just takes a different mindset," Norris said. "You got to try to attack them early because relievers nowadays, they're so good with their breaking stuff. Downs, especially, with his sinker, so you got to get him early or you're not going to get him at all."

While Pujols was in Southern California getting his left foot examined, the Angels did almost nothing against left-hander Tommy Milone and the A's bullpen. Besides Hamilton's homer -- his 15th on the year, but only his second off a southpaw -- the Angels put just three runners in scoring position all afternoon.

"It's hard to shut down the A's," Hamilton said. "At some point, they're going to score runs. It would've been nice to hold them, but we just have to score a little bit more than that."

The Angels have scored just 32 runs in their past 12 games -- an average of 2.7 per game -- and have been held to four runs or fewer in 11 of those contests. Against left-handed starters, they're batting .244 this season.

"Overall, we haven't been swinging the bats well at all, whether it's a righty or a lefty out there over the last two weeks," Scioscia said. "Milone pitched a good game, and it seems like he always pitches tough against us."

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.