This is what awaits them. If the Angels are to complete their quest and qualify for the postseason, they will have to win games like this one.
They will have to best front-line starters, bullpens brimming with hard throwers, lineups swollen with speed and power. If they can get past the Oct. 3 wild-card game, they will have to do it tense night after tense night.
On Tuesday, they failed their first test, falling 6-3 to Cleveland, the team they would likely face in the American League division series. The Angels did not play poorly. They received a solid start from talented young left-hander Tyler Skaggs, exculpatory fielding from their superb defense and one big hit. But their bullpen faltered late, and so they sustained their 74th defeat of this season while the Indians won for the 25th time in their past 26 games.
“It’s not going to happen every time,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
This time, the Indians never trailed. With two strikes, two outs and a man on second in a scoreless fourth inning, Skaggs aimed low and inside with a fastball and missed up. Jay Bruce did not miss it, banging it off the center-field wall for a run-scoring double that Skaggs termed “impressive.” Skaggs again missed with a fastball in the fifth inning, and Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez sent it out for a solo shot.
Skaggs remained on the mound into the sixth, celebrating when center fielder Mike Trout caught Carlos Santana’s leadoff drive on the warning track. The pitcher then turned and saw Scioscia walking out of the dugout to replace him.
The inning’s two relievers, Jose Alvarez and Blake Wood, combined to allow a run on a triple and a single. Further relievers found success before Bud Norris encountered trouble in the ninth, letting on five baserunners and letting in three runs, hurt by a misplayed foul pop-up.
The Indians started their own skilled young starter, Mike Clevinger, who was once an Angels prospect. Three years ago, the Angels sent him to Cleveland for an anonymous reliever named Vinnie Pestano, who pitched 211/3 innings for them and spent this season in unaffiliated baseball.
Clevinger, a lanky, hirsute right-hander, did not permit a hit until the fifth, when Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons linked together singles to begin the inning. The Angels then ran into two outs on the basepaths, though the latter did get across their first run.
They were then held scoreless through the next two innings, Trout ending the sixth with a double-play groundout, and Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller dominating the seventh. But with two outs in the eighth, the Angels started singling against Bryan Shaw. First, it was C.J. Cron, then pinch-hitter Ben Revere, then Brandon Phillips, scoring a run and bringing up Trout.
Trout ripped a 110-mph grounder — right to Cleveland second baseman Jose Ramirez. The inning was over.
“I put a good swing on it,” Trout said. “It just didn’t go through.”
Cody Allen handled the ninth, rebounding after Justin Upton blasted a 444-foot homer out to left-center.
Because Minnesota lost in New York, the Angels lost no ground. They remain 11/2 games behind the Twins with a dozen games left in the regular season. It is increasingly likely that the American League wild-card game will be held at Yankee Stadium. What’s left to be determined is if the Angels, Twins or a long shot will be New York’s opponent.
Right-hander Matt Shoemaker played catch Tuesday for the first time since his Aug. 8 surgery to release the radial nerve in his forearm. He remains hopeful that he will be cleared to pitch late in October, ideally while the Angels are still participating in the postseason. His 2018 season should not be affected, either way. ... Left-hander Andrew Heaney again played catch. The Angels do not know when he will throw off a mound. With 12 days left in the regular season, time is running short. ... Third baseman Yunel Escobar hit in a batting cage on Tuesday, Scioscia said. The team still expects him back this season, though he has been out with an oblique strain since Aug. 6. ... Time is also running out for injured reliever Huston Street, who has been rehabilitating a rotator-cuff strain at the team’s Arizona spring-training complex.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura