They had the tying on second base in the eighth inning and on first base in the ninth, the go-ahead run at the plate both times Wednesday night at Angel Stadium.
Close but nothing more was all the Angels could produce in another tight, flustering loss to Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros.
This one ended 2-0 and arrived as a complete-game exclamation point delivered like his 96-mph four-seam, five-alarm fastball.
“I felt like in general we saw him pretty good,” Zack Cozart said. “We just missed some balls.”
Since joining Houston last season, Verlander has faced the Angels four times. He’s 4-0 in those games, with two earned runs and 11 hits allowed in 31 innings, striking out 31 and walking four.
That computes to an ERA of 0.58, a number that reads like the finest of print, nearly too small to see.
Then again, there’s even more, which is to say, there’s even less.
In 34 innings on the road this season, Verlander has permitted a single earned run. That’s an ERA of 0.26.
“You know that you can’t make mistakes,” Angels starter Garrett Richards said. “You know he’s going to put up zeroes. You just try to match him. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that tonight. So I kind of feel like I lost us the game.”
Richards didn’t allow an earned run and gave up only one run-producing swing (a two-run homer by Evan Gattis) and still that wasn't enough, the Angels succumbing only after their final two shots at Verlander.
With two outs in the ninth, Albert Pujols singled and Andrelton Simmons walked. Cozart worked the count to 2-1 before — on Verlander’s 118th pitch of the night — popping out for Verlander’s first shutout since 2015.
“I was trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Cozart said, “and popped it up.”
The threat in the eighth was even more dramatic. With one out, Ian Kinsler singled and Kole Calhoun hit a ground-rule double to center, Calhoun’s first extra-base hit since opening day and third hit in 28 at-bats against Verlander. Kinsler couldn’t score as the ball bounced over the fence.
Manager Mike Scioscia then used Luis Valbuena to hit for Martin Maldonado. Although Valbuena was only three for 33 all-time against Verlander, one of those hits was a homer.
Here, the Angels’ most famous bat-flipper watched a 97.5-mph fastball for strike three, Valbuena in such disagreement with umpire Chris Conroy’s call that he actually flipped his bat. Yes, on a strikeout.
That brought up Mike Trout, matching a pair of players at the tops of their respective games.
The great showdown lasted one pitch and ended with an overwhelmingly underwhelming check swing, Trout tapping gently back to Verlander, who tossed to first for the third out.
“Just my timing is a little late right now,” said Trout, who is one for 18 on this homestand. “Easy fix. Big situation tonight. But a lot of baseball left.”
For the second consecutive game, Scioscia batted Trout first and Shohei Ohtani second in the order. For the second consecutive game, the results weren’t good. In those two games, they are one for 14.
In fairness, Scioscia could have put Trout and Ohtani in all nine spots in the lineup and it might not have mattered.