The afternoon was ugly for the Angels, but it could have been worse.
The Salt Lake Bees, their triple-A team, lost, 17-0. The Bees gave up 27 hits. They made 210 pitches. Their center fielder pitched the last inning. And, after that endless afternoon, the weary players staggered onto a bus for a six-hour ride from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas.
The major league guys got to spend a rare summer evening with their families, sleep in their own beds and get away from the ballpark for nearly 24 hours. That was about it for Angels highlights Sunday.
With little margin for error in the game, the Angels piled up error upon error. Three poor plays were scored as errors, three more poor plays were not, bad enough on any day, worse on a day when the opposing pitcher was Sonny Gray, who has the lowest earned-run average in the major leagues.
The result: an 8-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics. The Angels are 32-31, with their next four games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Angels best not start counting victories yet; the Diamondbacks are 30-32, coming off a sweep of the San Francisco Giants.
The Angels started the day by benching Matt Joyce, whose .183 batting average is the lowest among regular major league outfielders. Then they lost, for the third time in three tries this season, to Gray.
Gray, a potential starter for the American League in the All-Star game, gave up one run — not earned — in 7 2/3 innings. He walked none, struck out nine, and lowered his ERA against the Angels this season to 1.19.
"I'm under the impression he's doing that to everybody," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. "He's a really good pitcher. He's one of the best in the game. I don't think he gets enough notoriety."
The Angels gave up a run in the second inning, when second baseman Johnny Giovatella booted a double-play ball, shortstop Erick Aybar dropped a relay throw, and Iannetta failed to scoop up a squeeze bunt. When Iannetta did get hold of the ball, as he lay prone on the ground, he slammed the ball against the ground in frustration.
The Angels gave up another run in the third inning, when Aybar tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch of a pop fly that landed several feet away. In the sixth inning, a hard grounder bounced off third baseman Kyle Kubitza and Aybar fumbled a bases-loaded grounder.
"We just played poor defensively," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "If you're pitching against a guy who has thrown the ball as well as Sonny Gray has against us this year, you need to pitch with him. That includes playing defense."
Said Iannetta: "I wouldn't call it mental breakdowns. They were pretty much physical errors. That happens. It's just unfortunate they happened several times in the game."
The Angels began the game having given up 13 unearned runs, tied for fewest in the AL, and having made one error this month. As a result, Scioscia said, he did not address the team about the defensive lapses.
"It's over," he said. "We turned the page on it. These guys have been playing really good baseball, especially defensively. This one just got away from us."
Before the game, Scioscia told Joyce he would be benched Sunday and Monday. Scioscia said the Angels have not discussed releasing Joyce.
"Not at all," Scioscia said.
Scioscia said Joyce would get more chances but would not say when Joyce would play again. Scioscia noted the Angels had options in left field, but none of the options he cited is proven: Efren Navarro, primarily a first baseman; Giavotella, primarily a second baseman; Kubitza, a rookie and primarily a third baseman; and rookie Taylor Featherson, a utility infielder with an .091 batting average.
Joyce was acquired to bat in the middle of the lineup against right-handers. On Sunday, against a right-hander, the Angels effectively gave Kubitza, with 14 major league plate appearances, the at-bats that would have gone to Joyce.
"If you look at our organizational depth, a productive Matt Joyce is really important to us," Scioscia said, "especially a left-handed bat this lineup needs for balance. I think there's more production there. It's up to Matt to see if he can find his way through this."