The Angels were pressing at the plate, their team-wide funk extending to a third full week, so Mike Scioscia decided to ease his foot off the gas pedal Saturday. The manager canceled batting practice, a rarity before a night game, and instructed players to suit up, get loose and get ready to play.
“We’ll go American Legion for a day,” Scioscia said, referring to those summer days of youth, when players drove to the park in their uniforms, took a few warm-up tosses and played. “You want to give these guys a chance to exhale. Sometimes by getting them out of their routine, it gets guys on a better path.”
The less-is-more approach worked early, the Angels scoring twice in the first inning, as Kole Calhoun doubled, Mike Trout singled and Albert Pujols hit a two-run double. And pitcher Garrett Richards was dominant, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
But it took 19 innings for the Angels to finish off the Red Sox, with Pujols delivering a leadoff home run for a 5-4 victory in a game that lasted 6 hours 31 minutes, the longest in the majors this season.
The Angels lost their way after the fast start, with usually sure-handed middle infielders Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick committing critical errors during a three-run seventh inning that gave Boston the lead.
Trout, as he has so often, got the Angels back on track, lining a solo home run to right-center field in the eighth to tie the score, 3-3. Of Trout’s 26 homers this season, 19 have tied the game or given the Angels a lead.
After the Red Sox took a 4-3 lead on a David Ortiz sacrifice fly in the top of the 14th inning, Trout, with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the 14th, drove in a run with a fielder’s-choice grounder that made it 4-4 going into the 15th inning.
Pujols grounded out to third, and Josh Hamilton, mired in an 0-for-23 slump, struck out to end a rally that began with Chris Iannetta’s double to right, Efren Navarro’s walk and Calhoun’s single to left that loaded the bases.
The Red Sox’s 14th-inning rally was sparked by Dustin Pedroia, who singled with one out, stole second and swiped third on the same play when the Angels, who were shifted to the right side for Ortiz, failed to cover the bag.
After their early outburst against Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, the Angels managed only three hits over the next seven innings against the right-hander, which was in line with how they have swung the bats lately.
The Angels were one of baseball’s hottest teams going into the All-Star break, leading the major leagues in runs and on-base percentage and the AL in hits, though some of those numbers were probably skewed by playing Houston and Texas in eight of 11 games before the break.
The competition — and the pitching — stiffened after the break, but the bats did not, the Angels hitting .225 with a .335 slugging percentage and scoring just 67 runs, an average of 3.2 a game, in 21 games before Saturday. But instead of adding an early batting practice session and extra work in the cage Saturday, the Angels cut back.
“It’s late in the season,” hitting coach Don Baylor said. “We swing an awful lot. We need to use our heads going down the stretch.”
If one or two players were hot, Scioscia might consider some lineup changes, but the bulk of the lineup has struggled. Josh Hamilton after going hitless in his first six at-bats Saturday night, is in an 0-for-22 slump. Trout was 0 for 11 before Saturday. Aybar was one for 14. Kendrick was two for 18. Pujols was two for 11.
In their three previous games, two losses to the Dodgers and one to the Red Sox, the Angels hit .146 (13 for 89), scored three runs and went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
“I think you’d look at juggling the lineup if it would shock some guys to be in a different neighborhood, if they might see different pitches be up in different situations,” Scioscia said.
“But when you have a lot of guys who have struggled for three weeks, I don’t see any lineup shakeup that is going to move us forward and be a positive.”
The Angels played 17 of 20 games after the break against division-leading or playoff-contending Baltimore, Detroit, the Dodgers and Seattle, and among the opposing pitchers were Felix Hernandez, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, who have six Cy Young Awards among them.
But Friday night’s game was the first of 12 against last-place Boston, Philadelphia and Texas.
“We’re going against teams we should beat—that’s how I look at it,” Baylor said. “We’re a playoff team. We just have to show people that we are a playoff team on a consistent basis.”