NEW YORK — A potential make-or-break trip to Detroit, Washington and New York did not make or break the Angels, whose slip-through-the-fingers 3-2 loss in Yankee Stadium on Sunday night left them with a 4-5 record on the challenging nine-game swing.
But could it define them?
The Angels are 11-13 and 3 1/2 games back in the American League West, hardly a torrid start but an improvement over last April, when they were 9-15 and 6 1/2 games back through 24 games.
Though they lost cleanup batter Josh Hamilton to a thumb injury on April 8 and leadoff man Kole Calhoun to an ankle sprain on April 15, the Angels lead the major leagues with 37 homers, and they began Sunday ranked second in the AL in runs (128) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.766).
But they lost four one-run games on the trip, including a ninth-inning meltdown in Washington on Wednesday night, when Ernesto Frieri failed to hold a three-run lead, and they have seven one-run losses on the season, a reflection of their failure to hit enough in the clutch but mostly of their thin and shaky bullpen.
"It comes back to the same discussion we've had for a long time, the middle and back of your bullpen being able to hold leads," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's going to sway those one-run games, no doubt about it. We have to find some continuity in our bullpen to be able to do that."
The bullpen did not cough up a lead Sunday, but it couldn't hold a tie after starters Garrett Richards of the Angels and Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees battled to a draw, each pitching brilliantly.
Don't just blame the relievers, though. Catcher Chris Iannetta didn't help.
With the score tied, 2-2, right-hander Michael Kohn, the team's most consistent bullpen arm, walked speedy leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury to open the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Derek Jeter but walked Carlos Beltran.
Scioscia summoned young left-hander Nick Maronde, and on a 1-and-0 pitch to cleanup batter Brian McCann, Maronde threw a fastball on the outer half that was called a strike but went off the glove of Iannetta for a passed ball, allowing the runners to advance to second and third.
Maronde then bounced a breaking ball far in front of the plate and past Iannetta for a wild pitch that allowed Ellsbury to score for a 3-2 lead.
"There was no cross-up," Scioscia said of the passed ball. "When you're trying to frame a pitch, you might not quite get it where you want it, and that happens."
Iannetta said he just missed the pitch.
"It was a fastball, right there," he said. "Whether you're trying to frame it, stand on your head and catch it, it doesn't matter. You have to catch it. That's one of the dumbest plays I've made in my career . . . or not made."
The Angels, who went two for 22 with runners in scoring position Saturday and Sunday, failed to score off closer David Robertson in the ninth, and a weekend of frustration — they lost, 4-3, on Saturday — put a damper on an already difficult night of travel.
An hour after the game, which ended at 11:40 p.m. EDT, the Angels bused to Newark, N.J., for a five-hour flight home. Tyler Skaggs, who will start Monday night against Cleveland in Angel Stadium, took an earlier flight Sunday to get a normal night of sleep.
The rest of the Angels weren't expected to land at LAX until about 4:30 a.m. PDT, followed by a bus trip to Angel Stadium, a grueling itinerary that could affect them not only Monday night but Tuesday.
"The schedule is demanding enough, but if you're on the West Coast, sometimes it's insane," Scioscia said. "You're not as worried about the first night — there's usually some adrenaline. What I've noticed is the second night, you really see that guys might need a little bit of a harder workout to get themselves going."
Twitter: @MikeDiGiovannaCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times