One pitch — one ceremonial first pitch, for goodness' sake — into the 2014 season, the Angels suffered a bizarre and major injury, hitting coach Don Baylor fracturing his right thigh bone while catching Vladimir Guerrero's toss before Monday night's opener against the Seattle Mariners.
For longtime followers of this star-crossed franchise, which saw Kendrys Morales mangle his left leg while jumping into home plate to celebrate a walk-off homer and Mo Vaughn sprain his ankle when he tumbled into the first base dugout in pursuit of a foul pop in his first game as an Angel, this could mean only one thing:
A bad omen.
They seemed to be right, at least for one night, as the Mariners broke out for nine runs in the final four innings of a 10-3 victory in Angel Stadium.
Justin Smoak put the game out of reach with a towering three-run home run to right field off Angels reliever Kevin Jepsen in the ninth, and Dustin Ackley added salt to the wound with a three-run triple off Nick Maronde.
If the sight of their beloved 64-year-old hitting coach being carried off the field before the game made them queasy, the sight of their supposedly improved bullpen imploding during a six-run ninth made them downright sick.
Asked what it was like to watch the Angels unravel after getting two quick outs in the ninth, ace Jered Weaver, who allowed three earned runs and six hits in 61/3 innings, said, “I went into the bathroom and threw up, actually.”
Weaver, like many teammates over the last two weeks, has been suffering from a stomach virus.
The Angels scored three early runs off Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, two on Mike Trout's laser of a two-run homer into the left-field bullpen in the first, and Weaver cruised through five innings, allowing one unearned run and three hits.
But the Mariners rallied for a run in the sixth on Kyle Seager's run-scoring double and two in the seventh, Mike Zunino's run-scoring triple to left off Weaver tying the score and Abraham Almonte's RBI double to right-center off Fernando Salas pushing Seattle ahead.
Hernandez, who allowed three runs — two earned — and four hits, struck out 11 and walked one in six innings, got the win to improve to 4-0 with a 1.52 earned-run average in seven opening-day starts.
As frustrating as it was to let an early lead slip away, the Angels were more concerned about Baylor.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to Don and his family,” catcher Chris Iannetta said. “That was a tough one, one of those freak things that happen in life. It's a tough thing to experience and go through.”
Guerrero's pitch was low and away, and Baylor, who was kneeling on his left leg, turned his right ankle and twisted his right knee as he made a lunging catch.
As athletic trainers pulled Baylor to his feet, his right leg buckled and bent, and he had to be helped off the field. Baylor was taken to UCI Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with a broken femur.
Baylor, who was diagnosed in 2003 with multiple myeloma, a cancer that weakens the bones, will undergo surgery Tuesday, a procedure that takes four to six months to recover from. That could knock Baylor out for the season and thrust assistant hitting coach Dave Hansen into a more prominent role.
“Don is a tough guy, so when you see him struggle to get up, you know it's pretty bad,” second baseman Howie Kendrick said. “It stinks. It's the first day. That's not how you want to start the season.”
The opener started well for the Angels as Trout, amid “MVP” chants from Angels fans, followed Kole Calhoun's first-inning single by slamming a homer to left for a 2-0 lead.
The star center fielder, who signed a six-year, $144.5-million contract extension on Saturday, is batting .390 (16 for 41) with two homers and nine runs batted in against Hernandez.
“Once we scored three runs off him,” Trout said of Hernandez, “he just flipped a switch and went to nasty mode.”
Twitter: @MikeDiGiovannaCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times