It's not pretty by the Bay: Angels swept out of first

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- First, the good news for the Angels: After being shut out twice in less than 28 hours, they managed to score a run Sunday.

Scored five of them, in fact.

That's pretty much it for the good news, though. Because this time it was pitching that abandoned the Angels en route to their fourth consecutive loss, an 8-5 setback to the Tampa Bay Rays that knocked them out of first place in the American League West for just the second day since April 14.

All of which left Manager Mike Scioscia grasping at explanations -- and coming up with cliches.

"We've got to regroup," said Scioscia, whose team left home a week ago riding a two-game win streak -- which they extended to four by winning the first two games on the trip -- but return to Angel Stadium tonight riding their longest losing streak in 13 months.

"Our level of play has to pick up to where it was last week," Scioscia said. "We're just in a little bit of a lull now."

Six days ago no team in the majors had more victories than the Angels. But they'll wake up today with a record (22-17) worse than the Florida Marlins'. And worse than the Rays', for that matter. The sweep of the Angels moved them to five games over .500 for the first time in the franchise's 11-year history.

They got there in the span of seven Justin Speier pitches in the sixth inning Sunday, turning a 5-4 deficit into a 7-5 lead and costing unbeaten right-hander Ervin Santana his seventh victory.

After giving up a single to start the inning, Santana retired the next two hitters, running his pitch count to season-high 113. So with two left-handers due up for Tampa, Scioscia called for Speier, who had held lefties to a .190 batting average the previous three years.

This season? Not so much. Before Sunday, left-handers were hitting .400 with three homers against the right-hander. And he pitched to form again, giving up a double to Akinori Iwamura and then giving up the lead on a three-run home run by Carl Crawford.

Speier (0-3) was charged with two of the three losses in the series; on Friday he gave up a two-run ninth-inning walk-off homer to Evan Longoria.

"Just put these two losses -- Friday and today -- on me," said Speier, who left a slider over the middle of the plate to Crawford. "I just haven't made my pitches like I normally could.

"I'm going to iron it out. I was cruising along there for a little bit, and this game will humble you in a heartbeat."

In April, Speier gave up only four earned runs and eight hits in 11 1/3 innings. This month he has been rocked for six runs and 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings. And three of those hits have been homers.

"Command's the issue right now," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "We have to get him back in the zone. Right now he's kind of just pounding through the slider. He's almost throwing it too hard. He's kind of hooking it a little bit.

"I'm fully confident he's going to be OK."

Shortstop Erick Aybar, one of the few Angels to enjoy the trip with six hits in as many games, predicted the same kind of turnaround for the team.

"We're battling. We're getting better. We just have to keep fighting to improve," he said. "Sometimes you play good, sometimes you [don't]. But we have a lot of games left."


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