Like a row of jetliners preparing for takeoff on a cloudless day, Manager Mike Scioscia had his relief pitchers lined up just the way he likes them Tuesday night.
The Angels had a one-run lead after six innings, with 2003 All-Star Brendan Donnelly ready to pitch the seventh, the dominant Francisco Rodriguez cleared to pitch the eighth and closer Troy Percival, finally sound after nearly a month on the disabled list, waiting in the wings for the ninth.
Air Percival never got off the ground, though. Donnelly and Rodriguez ran into some unexpected turbulence, Donnelly loading the bases in the seventh and Rodriguez giving up a two-run single to Bobby Crosby, as the Oakland Athletics rallied for a 5-4 victory before 20,328 in Network Associates Coliseum.
“The plan is when we have the lead late, we’re confident we’re going to win games,” said Donnelly, who was making his fifth appearance after missing 2 1/2 months because of a broken nose and an elbow injury. “I didn’t hold up my end of it tonight. I felt good, but I have an ‘L’ next to my name.”
Kelvim Escobar provided the Angels with yet another quality start, his seventh in his last eight games, giving up three runs and seven hits in six innings, and the right-hander was in position to gain his first win since June 3 when he departed with a 4-3 lead after six.
Donnelly relieved Escobar and struck out Mark Kotsay to start the seventh. Mark McLemore, the ageless utility player -- wasn’t he supposed to be washed up when the Angels traded him to Cleveland in 1990? -- doubled to right, and Scott Hatteberg walked. Donnelly jammed cleanup batter Jermaine Dye, but Dye got enough of the pitch to bloop it into center field for a single, loading the bases.
Scioscia then summoned Rodriguez, who entered with a 1.11 earned-run average in 33 appearances and had given up only two hits in his last seven games, a span of 10 2/3 innings.
Rodriguez struck out Erubiel Durazo with a slider in the dirt, and he jumped ahead of Crosby with a 1-and-2 count, throwing two sliders and a fastball.
Rodriguez went to the slider again, but this one the right-hander hung, and Crosby, the former Long Beach State standout, jumped all over it, lining a two-run single to left for a 5-4 lead.
Rodriguez struck out Damian Miller to end the inning, but he screamed into his glove as he walked off the mound and hurled his glove into the dugout in frustration after suffering his fourth blown save of the season.
“I hung a breaking ball,” Rodriguez said. “I was trying to bounce it in front of the plate and get him to chase it, and he hit it good.
“That’s bad execution right there, especially with the game on the line. I can’t make that mistake. Every time you do, you get hurt.”
Though Crosby had difficulty catching up with the previous fastball, Rodriguez did not second-guess his decision to go with the slider with a 1-and-2 count. He was trying to waste the pitch and just failed to locate it.
“If he chased it, the inning would have been over,” Rodriguez said. “If he took it, it would have been 2-and-2, and I could have gone to a back-door slider or gone up and in with a fastball. If you’re going to beat me, you’ve got to beat me with my best stuff.”
Until the seventh, the Angels were in position to beat A’s left-hander Mark Mulder, who threw a complete-game four-hitter in a 2-1 victory over the Angels last Thursday in Anaheim.
Garret Anderson’s run-scoring grounder gave the Angels a 1-0 lead in the first, and after Oakland scored three times in the second, the final two runs coming on Kotsay’s two-out, two-run single off Escobar, the Angels rallied for two runs in the third, on Anderson’s run-scoring single and Jose Guillen’s run-scoring double.
Guillen then preserved the tie with one of his best throws of the season to cut down Kotsay trying to score from second in the fifth inning.
With runners on first and second, Dye hit a sharp ground-ball single to left, but Guillen charged and fired a strong one-hop throw to catcher Bengie Molina, who had plenty of time to make the catch and block the plate before applying the tag to Kotsay.