Five takeaways from heartbreaking Game 2 loss for the Angels

The Royals are looking like the 2002 Angels, the Angels are looking like their 2007 team, and other takeaways

Eric Hosmer was looking to swing away on the first pitch, and after he connected, he leaned back and watched the ball soar. For the second night in a row, the Angles were doomed by an extra-inning home run by the Royals.

They now trail 0-2 in the series. Since 1995, only four of 22 AL division series teams have come back from that hole. Here are the takeaways from Game 2, starting with the surprising fact that …

1. The Angels’ best hitters — Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick and Josh Hamilton — haven’t been a factor.

Hamilton, at least, has been battling injuries. But Trout has also gone 0-for-8, and Pujols and Kendrick have just one hit apiece. Combined they are just 2-for-34 with eight strikeouts and one RBI.

“There are some guys that right now aren’t attacking the ball,” said Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. “We haven’t done a lot of the things we’ve done during the season.”

The foursome started out hitless in their first 26 at-bats until Kendrick hit a single in the fifth inning of Game 2. Pujols later added an RBI single to tie the game, but Kendrick grounded out to kill a budding rally.

Trout is the only player of the four who has no prior postseason experience. He is the prohibitive favorite for the American League most valuable player award, but he has done next to nothing offensively in his first two playoff games. In the first inning, he grounded out on a fielder’s choice and was soon thrown out by several steps while trying to steal second.

“I think it’s unfair to focus on one guy in looking at us,” Scioscia said. “We haven’t scored many runs this series, but it’s more than just Mike. There are some guys in our club who just haven’t squared balls up yet.”

Despite the offensive issues, the Angels stayed in the game because …

2. Matt Shoemaker showed his injury is no problem with a gem of an outing.

It took a few pitches for Shoemaker to find his command, but once he did, he rolled. He threw six innings, struck out six and allowed one unearned run.

“Our pitching staff has been incredible,” Scioscia said.

Shoemaker’s only run came when Kole Calhoun lost a ball hit to the outfield and allowed a runner to advance to second base. The runner would later score on a single.

Apart from that, Shoemaker allowed just three more hits.

The rookie hadn’t started since Sept. 15 because of an abdominal muscle injury. Largely because of his effort, the Angels had a chance to take the lead in the eighth inning, until they learned …

3. The Royals’ outfield isn’t just fast; it has arms too.

With no outs in the eighth, pinch runner Collin Cowgill tried to tag up from second on a fly out to center field.

Jarrod Dyson had been inserted as a defensive replacement at the beginning of the inning. While he waited in the outfield for the pitch, he said, he imagined the play unfolding: a fly ball, a tag-up, a play at third base.

Cowgill decided on his own to test him. Dyson settled under the ball and unloaded. The throw beat Cowgill to the bag.

“Huge,” Hosmer said. “That was a big-time play. He gave us a lot of momentum.”

The Royals’ outfield has made big defensive plays in each game so far. In Game 1, Lorenzo Cain turned a sure double into an out with a leaping grab in center field and later made a sliding catch to save another hit. In right field, Nori Aoki made a no-look grab at the wall to prevent an extra-base hit.

Scioscia said he liked Cowgill’s decision, even if the result wasn’t the right one.

“If that would happen again tomorrow or Sunday, I’m hoping Collin’s going to go,” Scioscia said. “That’s a huge base to get, and there’s no doubt you want to pressure them in that situation. Dyson just made an incredible defensive play.”

Had Cowgill beaten the throw, the Angels would have been in a great spot to take the lead. Instead, the Royals again got a chance to show …

4. They don’t hit a lot of home runs, but their timing is impeccable.

The Royals became the first team to win three straight extra-inning playoff games, and the last two have come from the long ball. Hosmer was the hero this time, after Mike Moustakas’ 11th-inning shot won Game 1.

The Royals were the first team ever to reach the playoffs despite ranking last in home runs and walks. They had just 95 home runs in the regular season. For perspective, Trout alone had 36.

“Well, we can hit home runs,” said Royals Manager Ned Yost. “We don’t live and die by them. We have other things that we can use to help us win ballgames.”

Those other things, Yost said, include aggressive base running and a great bullpen. Those are two of the reasons why …

5. The Royals are starting to resemble the 2002 Angels.

That year, the Angels were the wild-card team and stampeded to a World Series title by going first to third often and using a lights-out bullpen.

The Angels weren’t quite as fast as the Royals are now, and their defense wasn’t quite as good, but that was during the steroid era, when those traits mattered less. Still, the Angels had players like Chone Figgins who could wreak havoc on the basepaths. And relievers like Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez and Brendan Donnelly owned the late innings.

The Royals follow a similar formula, and that has made them tough to beat.

“They have some things in their game that does not go into a slump,” Scioscia said. “The way you can run the bases does not go into a slump. The way you can put the ball in play, that’s usually not going to get into a slump.”

They’ve also been able to ride the underdog dynamic.

“We honestly don’t care what other people are saying,” Hosmer said. “I know teams right now don’t want to face us.”

The Angels, on the other hand, have resembled their 2007 club, which won 94 games and scored 822 runs in the regular season but looked lost at the plate in the postseason. They were swept by the Red Sox that year after scoring four runs and batting .192 as a team.

This time they’re batting just .147. 

Twitter: @zhelfand

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