The official end of the Angels’ 2014 season was a Mike Trout strikeout, but they were done much earlier than that.
After the first two games were decided in extra innings, the Royals left no doubt this time. The Angels never threatened. They lost, 8-3, a Royals sweep of the American League division series.
The Angels were undone methodically by a Royals team that always seemed to have more speed, timely hits and energy. Even stone-footed Billy Butler stole a base.
In Anaheim, only the Angels’ lineup failed. In Game 3, the starting pitching choked, and the bullpen couldn’t pick up the pieces.
If those first two games of the series had been an aberration (sooner or later, the Angels hitters were going to hit), the third game was a fitting reflection of a flawed team. For 162 regular season games, the Angels could ignore a rotation battered by injuries and inconsistency because they hit, pitched well in relief and won.
In a short series, in Game 3, the rotation was exposed. Wilson lasted just two outs. The game would be in the hands of the bullpen. The Angels would use eight pitchers.
The Angels batted just .170 this series, but at times on Sunday, the lineup started to wake up. At times, it showed some hope. Each time, the Royals crushed it.
Rallies were answered with bigger rallies. Hits were swallowed by the Royals’ spectacular outfield defense. The Royals wouldn’t let the Angels hang around.
Trout, hitless in the series to that point, blasted a 412-foot home run in his first at-bat to give the Angels their first lead of the series.
The Royals answered swiftly. Alex Gordon’s bases-loaded triple gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
After the hit, Wilson put his head down, shook it slightly and stole a glance up at the crowd as he walked to the dugout. It was only the first inning, and the crowd was ready to explode.
With the team down 4-1 in the fourth, Albert Pujols lifted another solo home run, the Angels’ fourth of the series. They threatened again in the inning but couldn’t score. Kansas City starter James Shields wasn’t quite sharp and looked vulnerable, if only the Angels could keep it close.
A Mike Moustakas home run in the bottom of the inning destroyed that notion, and a sacrifice fly put the Royals ahead 7-2.
Cain ended a fifth-inning rally singlehandedly. With two runners on, Cain, the Royals center fielder, stole singles from Pujols and Howie Kendrick on consecutive at-bats with acrobatic slides and dives. After the second play, he popped to his feet, pumped his arms and yelled toward the infield.
Once Shields handed the game over to the bullpen with an 8-2 lead in the seventh inning, the game was good as over.
The Angels stranded runners in the second, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth: 19 runners total. For the series, Trout, Pujols, Kendrick and Josh Hamilton — the Angels’ four best hitters — went a combined 5-for-50, an even .100.
The Hamilton experiment — Manager Mike Scioscia’s hope that he would quickly regain form after injury — did not work. He was hitless in 13 at bats.
It had taken the Angels five years to get back to the postseason. Scioscia did an outstanding job in the regular season. He guided the team past injuries and a questionable rotation. He never panicked. It had taken five and a half months to win the AL West, and it started with the hitting, then with the relief pitching.
But since the 2002 World Series run, the Angels are 10-23 in the postseason.
This time, over the course of four days, the hitting went first, then everything else unraveled.