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Angels Slip Up Against Padres

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Relief pitcher Mark Petkovsek could only watch as another Angel opportunity rolled away.

San Diego’s Tony Gwynn could barely believe what unfolded before his eyes.

Angel catcher Matt Walbeck would laugh, if only it didn’t hurt so much.

In a season that has had many frustrating twists and turns, the Angels rounded a new corner in a 2-1 loss to the Padres in front of 35,247 at Edison Field on Tuesday.

Petkovsek, working with runners on first and third and none out in the ninth inning, tried the old fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff trick. He never got to the “throw” part.

When Petkovsek faked, the ball popped out of his hand, hit the slope of the mound and rolled into foul territory. Carlos Baerga of the Padres raced home with what turned out to be the winning run.

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“I was in the on-deck circle and I had to ask myself, ‘Did I just see that?’ ” Gwynn said.

For the Angels, it was no illusion. Like their season, it was all too real. They head into a two-game series against first-place Texas having lost five consecutive games.

Their lack of offense--again--allowed no margin for error. Petkovsek made one.

“There was a split-second where I didn’t know what happened,” Petkovsek said. “Then, I never had a chance to reach it.

“I was trying to steal an out. It’s not a mental mistake, the ball was dry. It just popped out of my hand.”

Another solid pitching performance, this time by the struggling Chuck Finley, slipped from the Angels’ grasp.

Finley, who had given up 32 earned runs in his last 22 innings, gave up one run and three hits and struck out six in 7 2/3 innings. But, for the second consecutive game, a quality performance went for naught.

There was little doubt where the blame was, and it wasn’t only Petkovsek’s not-so-sticky fingers.

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Ken Hill protected 1-0 lead with six shutout innings Monday, only to have the Angels lose, 4-1, in 10 innings. Finley made one run stand up until the eighth on Tuesday.

“If we had scored some runs, we would be laughing about what happened to Mark,” Walbeck said. “We just don’t seem to have a spark offensively.”

That can happen when the Padres’ Andy Ashby pitches. He allowed one run through eight innings.

“Ashby is impressive to watch,” shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. “He’s one of those guys you don’t mind tipping your hat to. At the same time, it’s getting a little old. You can’t go out in the American League and score two runs every game.”

Two would have been a windfall.

Darin Erstad hit Ashby’s first pitch into the right-field seats Tuesday. The Angels hardly got their bats off their shoulders after that. They had two on in the first, but Ashby struck out Garret Anderson and Jeff Huson looking.

Orlando Palmeiro doubled in the fourth and Huson singled, then was bunted to second, in the seventh. No other Angel got past first base.

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“For some reason, we can’t string three hits together in an inning,” Manager Terry Collins said. “I don’t know what to say about us scoring runs. What I can say is that sometimes when everything is going bad, you have to look for the good.”

That would be Finley, regarded as the Angels’ ace.

He left the bases loaded in the first and sixth innings and survived a disagreement with plate umpire Dan Morrison.

Finley tossed his glove in the air when a 3-2 pitch to Ruben Rivera was called a ball, loading the bases in the sixth. George Arias then grounded out to end the inning.

“You never know what you have to work with until you get out there,” Finley said. “I had three pretty good pitches warming up in the bullpen. I decided not to try to save anything the first time around.”

But, with the Angel offense, it was like walking a tightrope in a windstorm. In the eighth, Finley’s 3-2 split-finger fastball fooled Reggie Sanders badly, but also went for a wild pitch that allowed Sanders to reach first base.

Two outs later, Eric Owens lined Finley’s 2-2 pitch down the right-field line for a ground-rule double, tying the score, 1-1.

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“We can’t keep asking our pitchers to protect one-run leads,” Collins said. “That means they always have to make perfect pitches.”

BACK IN SWIM?: Angels hope Tim Salmon can get back in swing of things in Texas. Page 6

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