Small-ball strategy works against Angels late

Halos can't drive in run after bunt or get bunt down with runner on first

Small-ball strategy works against Angels late

ANAHEIM -- The Angels converted only 26 sacrifice bunts during the regular season -- the seventh fewest in baseball and 50 fewer than the Major League-leading Reds.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series -- a 3-2, 11-inning loss mired by missed opportunities -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia called for it in three straight innings late into Thursday night, and it backfired each time.

  Date Time Matchup/Result Network
Gm 1 Oct. 2   KC 3, LAA 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   KC 4, LAA 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   KC 8, LAA 3 video
Erick Aybar sacrificed Gordon Beckham to second in the seventh inning, but Josh Hamilton grounded out -- against Brandon Finnegan, a fellow lefty with electric stuff -- and C.J. Cron flied out to keep the score tied at 2. Leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun tried to bunt Chris Iannetta over in the eighth, but he popped out and the Angels eventually stranded two runners. Aybar sacrificed Beckham over again in the ninth, but Hamilton struck out -- against another lefty in Tim Collins -- and Iannetta grounded out two batters later to end another threat.

The Angels finished the night 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, and they couldn't break a 2-2 tie despite having the leadoff runner on in the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th.

"It's part of the game," Albert Pujols said, "part of the postseason."

But bunting was hardly a fabric of the Angels' high-powered offense all year, until their most important game of the season against one of the best bullpens in baseball. The most surprising instance came in the eighth, when Scioscia kept the bunt sign on with Calhoun, who had a .450 slugging percentage in the regular season and faced a hitter-friendly 3-1 count.

"There were a number of times I think that we were considering [taking the bunt sign off]," Scioscia said, "but I think that where the count was, and if it was ball four, Kole will take it. We definitely want to get [Iannetta] to second base there in that situation with our guys coming up behind him. We didn't, obviously, and didn't execute it on that play."

The Angels also didn't execute in the 10th, despite Calhoun leading off with a single and their three most dangerous hitters -- Mike Trout, Pujols and Howie Kendrick -- due up next. Trout hit into a fielder's-choice groundout, Pujols popped out and Kendrick struck out, capping an 0-for-13 night for the trio.

The next half-inning, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas drove in the winning run with a leadoff homer off Fernando Salas.

"I think the biggest thing is to try to get your runs early," Kendrick said regarding the difficulty of getting runs across on the Royals' bullpen. "That's the playoffs, period. You're going to face great pitching. It just comes down to hitting mistakes and making the fewest mistakes on the other side of the ball."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.