The stars haven’t aligned for the Angels this season, and neither did the sun on Sunday.
The free-falling club found another way to lose when center fielder Mike Trout and right fielder Kole Calhoun lost high fly balls in the sun, both key plays in a 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Progressive Field.
Abraham Almonte broke the game open with a fifth-inning grand slam off Jered Weaver, as the Indians completed a three-game sweep and sent the Angels to their 25th loss in 36 games.
The Angels fell to 65-65, the first time they’ve been at .500 since June 26, when they were 37-37. They remained 6 1/2 games behind Houston in the American League West but fell 3 1/2 games behind Texas for the second wild-card spot.
If the Angels haven’t hit rock bottom yet, they’re getting very close.
“These guys want to achieve, and they feel it when we’re not playing well,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “But even though this is a tough stretch, we always talk about, ‘Hey, the sun is coming up, let’s go out there and try to create some momentum.’”
The sun came up after a morning rain on Sunday and stopped the Angels in their tracks.
The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the first when Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley doubled. Carlos Santana followed with a high fly ball to right-center that Trout lost track of, the ball dropping for an RBI double.
“I saw it the whole way, I was trying to turn a little bit, and it just kept shifting and went right into the sun,” Trout said. “I tried to do whatever I could to catch it, but I had no idea where it was.”
Trout was wearing sunglasses. “It didn’t matter,” he said. “When the ball’s right in the sun, you can’t do anything about it. You feel helpless.”
By the fourth inning, the sun shifted and was no longer a problem for Trout. It was a problem for Calhoun.
Brantley hit a one-out single in the fifth and Calhoun, who was also wearing sunglasses, lost Santana’s high fly to the warning track, the ball dropping for another double that put runners on second and third.
Lonnie Chisenhall was walked intentionally to load the bases. Giovanny Urshela popped to first for what should have been the third out. But Almonte crushed his third homer of the season to deep right-center for a 6-0 lead.
“The sun was peeking through [the clouds], then it was up there like a heat lamp,” Scioscia said. “Those guys are pretty good at getting around balls, getting them out of the sun. They just lost two of them today, and they’re obviously big plays.”
Santana added a two-run single off Weaver in the sixth for an 8-1 lead, but the game was lost in the fifth, when Weaver said he threw “one too many heaters in,” to Almonte, who hit an 80-mph pitch for his homer.
“If you still call it a fastball, I don’t know,” Weaver said, his frustration with his diminished velocity clearly evident. “Whatever you guys want to call it.”
The Angels can take solace in the fact that they’ve been awful for five weeks and haven’t been buried in the playoff race, but with 32 games left, they need to right themselves quickly.
They rank last in the AL in August in average (.218), runs per game (2.9), hitting with runners in scoring position (.183), on-base percentage (.278) and slugging (.342), and their pitchers have a 7.33 earned-run average over the last 10 games.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Scioscia said, when asked whether it’s difficult to keep players from getting discouraged. “You certainly don’t want guys to start to press, but you don’t want to just take things in stride. No one takes these last 36 games in stride, for sure.”
Left-hander Hector Santiago (7-8, 3.13 ERA) will oppose Oakland left-hander Felix Doubront (1-1, 3.70) at O.co Coliseum on Monday at 7 p.m. TV: FS West; Radio: 830, 1330.