Seventeen hours earlier, they had been eliminated from postseason contention, and the club’s collective gaze turned toward 2018. Unsurprisingly, many of the position players received the day off, though the news came as a surprise to some.
“Well,” second baseman Brandon Phillips said as he eyed the lineup card, “I guess I’m not playing today.”
Phillips missed two games earlier this month because of a back strain. Justin Upton, the Angels’ other Aug. 31 acquisition, had played every September game, as had Mike Trout and the rest of the regulars.
Without them, the Angels lost their last road game of 2017, 5-4, to the Chicago White Sox before an announced crowd of 19,596. The defeat ensured the Angels (78-81) will go at least three years between winning seasons.
The Angels managed more extra-base hits than singles. Eric Young Jr. doubled in a run, Carlos Perez homered in two, and C.J. Cron produced a sacrifice fly. Six relievers held the White Sox to six singles and two runs until Jesse Chavez floundered with two outs in the eighth inning.
Rob Brantly’s two-run homer tied the score. After Tim Anderson singled, the White Sox took the lead because left fielder Ben Revere, oddly, threw straight to second base on Rymer Liriano’s single. Because of that decision and because of Revere’s weak arm, Anderson scored all the way from first, a rare occurrence at the sport’s highest level.
“A long, unprotected throw with no cutoff man is what got us tonight,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Again, the Angels conveniently chose to start Bud Norris, their closer for much of this season. Thursday marked his 60th appearance of 2017. Had all of those come out of the bullpen, Norris would have received a $500,000 bonus per the terms of his contract.
But, because he made three starts after Andrew Heaney hurt his shoulder Sept. 9, Norris won’t get the money. Fifty-seven relief appearances and three starts, for him, were not as valuable as 60 relief appearances. Earlier this month, Scioscia said he was unaware of the incentives in the pitcher’s contract.
As Norris took the mound Thursday, the White Sox trolled him, inadvertently or not. The giant scoreboard in center field read: “Norris is the first pitcher in franchise history to start a game after recording at least 19 saves earlier in the year.”
Norris, 32, threw three scoreless innings, replacing Heaney one last time.
To contend next season, the Angels will require more starting pitchers they can count on to complete the year. They know that. Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs, who missed most of this season because of injuries, will have to reach innings totals they have not reached since 2015 and 2014.
Asked before Thursday’s game if the Angels planned to discuss and develop a plan to maximize both pitchers’ time on the mound given those restrictions, Scioscia did not answer directly.
“I don’t want to talk about the offseason too much,” the manager said. “But it’s not the end of the world if a pitcher can’t hit the 200-inning mark. So, these guys all have enough starts to get the innings you would need for a lion’s share of the season. Hopefully, they’re functional innings that are helping you win games.”
He added that he detected no “perceived deficiencies” in either pitcher’s capacity to log full 2018 seasons. And he suggested that learning the range of possibilities to await could have as much value as predicting one.
“It’s not only just guidelines,” Scioscia said. “It’s also expectations. Where can you expect some guys to be? We’ll look at that and get ready. What’s best for these players will be best for us.”
Twenty-three major league teams have won playoff games since the Angels last won one Oct. 22, 2009. Of the seven who have not, two, Colorado and Minnesota, have a chance to win this year. …The Angels entered Thursday on pace to pick 17th in the 2018 MLB draft. Seven teams entered the day within four losses of them. So, there is draft ground to gain over the season’s final days. …The Angels hoped to use more relievers in multi-inning roles this season, and rookie right-hander Keynan Middleton’s two-inning stint Wednesday hinted that he could be entrusted with the job in 2018. It was his longest appearance of the season, but he has recent starting experience in the minor leagues. “Just because we didn’t use him in that role," Scioscia said, “doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of doing it. I thought he threw the ball really well.”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura