It was a classic case of a struggling player trying to do too much, of perhaps over-thinking a situation, and the result was a huge missed opportunity in a game filled with them for the Angels, who lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-2, in Chase Field on Wednesday night.
The Angels were down by a run in the top of the seventh inning when Chris Iannetta led off with a single to center field and pinch-hitter Efren Navarro hit a ground-rule double to right-center off reliever David Hernandez.
Up stepped leadoff man Erick Aybar, who was mired in a one-for-26 slump that included several failed bunt attempts. The Diamondbacks played their infield back, conceding a run.
A grounder to the right side would have scored the tying run and moved the potential go-ahead run to third with one out and the heart of the Angels order — Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols — coming up.
Aybar, scratching and clawing for hits, attempted to drag a bunt to the right side on Hernandez's first pitch. But Hernandez threw a nasty breaking ball that forced Aybar to change his bat angle, and Aybar popped out to the pitcher.
"The pitch was right there," said Aybar, a switch-hitter whose average has dropped from .271 on June 10 to .246. "I messed up. I tried to do my job and popped it up. That's baseball. It happens."
Would Manager Mike Scioscia have preferred Aybar swing away in that situation?
"Hindsight is 20-20," Scioscia said. "He's on his own. Erick usually has a great feel for that, and unfortunately, he popped it up. It's easy to say now that he should have swung away, but he's one of the best bunters in the league, and he just got under one. If he gets that bunt down, there's no doubt he has a chance for a hit. At the very least, he has a chance to get a runner over and get a runner in."
The Angels still had an excellent chance to tie the score after Aybar's bunt attempt, but Calhoun, who singled twice in his first four at-bats, flied to shallow center field off left-hander Oliver Perez, Iannetta holding at third.
That left Arizona Manager Chip Hale with a difficult decision: Should he pitch to Trout, who doubled in the sixth and was batting .368 (14 for 38) in his last 10 games and had seven homers in his last 16 games?
Or should he walk Trout intentionally to load the bases for one of baseball's hottest hitters, Pujols, who hit .368 (25 for 68) with 11 homers and 19 runs batted in his previous 18 games?
Hale summoned right-hander Daniel Hudson and instructed him to go after Trout.
"When I brought Hudson in, I basically told him, 'You've got a base open. I told [catcher Welington] Castillo, pitch your nastiest stuff to this guy,'" Hale said. "If it doesn't work out, the next guy is pretty darn good, too, and maybe hotter right now. I think they felt like they wanted to go after Trout."
It was the right call. Trout grounded out to third to end the inning, one of many frustrating at-bats for the Angels, who banged out 11 hits but went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
"The offense did a lot of good things," Scioscia said. "The one bump in the road tonight was hitting with runners in scoring position. We scored a couple of runs with outs. We pressured them a lot. We just couldn't get either the hit or contact that we needed at the right time to get a run across."
The Aybar bunt was probably the pivotal play in the game, but Scioscia refused to pin the blame for the loss on his veteran shortstop.
"This game isn't on one player or one situation," Scioscia said. "We had numerous opportunities — that's the frustrating part. I thought we did a lot on the offensive side. We just couldn't push over the run or two we needed."
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