ANAHEIM, Calif. – In the closing weeks of the season, with a playoff spot on the line, little things can make a big difference.
One mistake can cost a game. One base-running error can stop a big inning. One loss can sink a season.
The Angels spent Wednesday night lamenting all the little things that went wrong against the Texas Rangers. They lost a game, lost a day in their season and lost ground in the American League wild card race.
The silver lining: It could have been worse. Despite their 6-2 defeat to the Rangers at Angel Stadium, they lost only a half-game in the wild card scramble. The Oakland A’s loss to the Detroit Tigers dropped the A’s into the second wild card spot, leaving the Angels 3½ games out.
That’s not a comfortable distance, but it’s not impossible either. With only 13 games left in the regular season, the Angels have put themselves in an unenviable position, needing to win and hope the A’s or the Baltimore Orioles – or both — lose.
“We have a couple of weeks left or a month and a half left,” pitcher CJ Wilson said. “It depends on how well we play.”
But they can’t win unless they can avoid the kind of mistakes they made Wednesday. Wilson struggled finding the strike zone and never made it out of the third inning, and Albert Pujols committed a regrettable base-running error that took the Angels out of a potential big inning.
How big was Pujols’ miscue? At the time, the Angels were behind 3-2 in the sixth. He could have represented the tying run at third base.
But his attempt to stretch a single to center field into a double was questionable. He was thrown out by 10 feet by Rangers center fielder Craig Gentry.
The next batter, Torii Hunter, lined a ground-rule double to left-center. The Angels would have had runners at third and third with one out. Instead, they had a runner at second with two outs.
“Albert he plays baseball; that’s why he’s successful,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Gentry showed some real range out there and got to that ball and made a play. There’s no doubt getting to second base was big.
“We trust Albert’s instincts, he trusts his instincts. It just didn’t work out.”
Wilson had exited the game long before then, giving up three runs in the third after walking the bases loaded in the first but escaping. Of the 66 pitches he threw, only 35 were strikes.
“It was more of an execution issue than a game-plan issue,” Scioscia said.
Wilson said his two-seam fastball was running too much in the first inning, causing him to fall behind early. But in the third, after a run-scoring triple by Elvis Andrus, an RBI double by Michael Young and a double by Mike Napoli for another run, Scioscia pulled the left-hander. He couldn’t afford to let the game get out of hand.
“I wasn’t happy to get pulled out of the game,” Wilson said, “but I wasn’t doing well either, so it’s my own fault.
“We’re trying to win the game, so I understand. We have to do what we have to do, I guess, but as a starter you never want to get pulled early. How are you going to be happy after that?”
It wasn’t a game to be happy about. The Angels needed a win and suffered a loss. The days are running short, and every mistake suddenly looks enormous.
“All we can is come out and win tomorrow,” Scioscia said.