The Angels took one small step forward and two gigantic ones back Thursday, when they solved their starting pitching woes for an evening only to see typically dependable relievers Brendan Donnelly and Troy Percival stumble in astonishing fashion during a 7-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Edison Field.
Donnelly gave up his first earned run of the season after 24 1/3 scoreless innings, which the Angels could have survived with a scoreless ninth from their closer, who had converted all seven of his save opportunities before being entrusted with a 4-3 lead Thursday.
The Orioles sent the bottom of their order to face Percival and emerged with four runs, all on Brian Roberts’ grand slam to right on a 3-and-2 fastball.
Just like that, the Angels (22-23) had lost a series they had no business losing to the Orioles and are only a half-game ahead of the last-place Texas Rangers, who earlier in the day won their sixth consecutive game.
Percival (0-2) retired only one of the five batters he faced in the ninth during his worst outing of the season. After Percival issued a leadoff walk to Gary Matthews Jr., Deivi Cruz laced a hit-and-run single past David Eckstein, who was scooting over to cover second on the play.
Home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi then ruled that Percival had hit Geronimo Gil with a pitch, though replays appeared to indicate only that his high and inside offering knocked Gil to the ground in self-defense. Roberts then followed with the winning blast, as the Angels wasted a start in which Ramon Ortiz gave up two runs -- only one of them earned -- over 6 1/3 innings.
“We didn’t do OK tonight,” said Donnelly, who yielded a run in the eighth when Jay Gibbons’ single fell in front of a charging Garret Anderson in left field. “In my eyes I failed.”
The crowd of 28,958 included a group of 35 from Culiacan, Mexico, that new Angel owner Arte Moreno had met in the team store earlier in the day and invited to the game free of charge. Judging from the way the Angels played, the group might have requested a refund anyway.
The calendar says late May, but a few more weeks of spring training might be in order for the Angels, who continue to hurt themselves with an inability to execute routine defensive plays.
On Tuesday it was two fly balls that should have been caught. On Wednesday it was a botched rundown play. And Thursday it was a poor throw.
Jeff Conine reached safely in the fourth when third baseman Troy Glaus’ high throw to first forced Scott Spiezio to leap to make the catch. Gibbons followed with a double down the right-field line, and Tony Batista then stroked a two-run single to left to give Baltimore a 2-1 lead.
The Angels, who have trailed in 34 of 45 games, found themselves in familiar territory but retook the lead in the fifth.
Spiezio took a pitch off his left knee to open the inning and scored on Bengie Molina’s double to right-center. Jeff DaVanon popped up a bunt in an attempt to move Molina to third, but Eckstein scored Molina anyway with a double to left-center that made it 3-2, Angels.
The Angels added a run in the seventh on Adam Kennedy’s double to left before Donnelly and Percival squandered the lead.
“Today was not his best,” Ortiz said of Percival. “You’ll see him throw like that maybe two times the whole year.”
Opponent -- Tampa Bay Devil Rays, three games.
Site -- Edison Field.
Radio -- KSPN (710), XKAM (950).
TV -- Channel 11 on Saturday.
Records -- Angels 22-23, Devil Rays 18-28.
2002 record vs. Devil Rays -- 8-1.
Tonight, 7 -- Jarrod Washburn (4-4, 3.52) vs. Jeremi Gonzalez (0-1, 2.57).
Saturday, 1 p.m. -- John Lackey (2-4, 6.42) vs. Joe Kennedy (3-3, 5.81).
Sunday, 1 p.m. -- Kevin Appier (2-2, 6.34) vs. Dewon Brazelton (0-3, 5.92).