Mike Trout starred, the Angels fought, and yet they came up short. It was true Sunday. It’s often been true this season. In two months, it should be an apt descriptor for their completed season.
Trout has played 20 games since his July return from a torn thumb ligament. In 19 of those games, he has reached base. In 14 of them, he has done so more than once. Plate appearance by plate appearance, he is stringing together a season for the ages to add to an increasingly astonishing career. He is hitting, walking and slugging at rates better than his previous bests.
He turns 26 Monday, and his next hit will be his 1,000th. By all advanced measures, he is already the most valuable player in franchise history. And, still, it obviously is not enough.
In the longest nine-inning game ever played at Angel Stadium, the Angels suffered a demoralizing 11-10 defeat to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. One week earlier in Toronto, they lost by the same score, in similar, shorter fashion.
Then, closer Bud Norris was the primary culprit, stricken with the loss for surrendering a walk-off grand slam. This time, he shared the burden with setup man Blake Parker. Each man entered spring training as a non-roster invitee. Together they propped up the bullpen and became unlikely All-Star candidates. And, late on this midsummer afternoon, they imploded together, turning a four-run eighth-inning lead into a one-run defeat.
Including Sunday, the two men have made 100 appearances for the Angels this season. Before this season, the 32-year-olds had combined to relieve in 137 major league games. Their unusually taxing workloads could be connected to their faltering performances.
“I’ve never pitched in 50-plus games before,” Norris said. “It’s late in the year. My body’s definitely going through some things.”
He fanatically studied the tape afterward, seeking to uncover what went wrong with his delivery.
The Angels (55-57) fell back to three games out of the second American League wild-card spot. Their competitors from Seattle and Kansas City split a doubleheader that required only 90 more minutes to complete than the Angels’ single game.
To begin the Angels’ first inning, Yunel Escobar cornered left-hander Sean Manaea in a 3-and-1 count and roped a fastball into the left-field seats for a home run. In the third inning, Trout hooked a low changeup to a similar spot for his 22nd homer, one of three times he got on base.
That lead remained until the fourth, as Angels starter Ricky Nolasco had managed to strand an assortment of baserunners. Oakland then pushed across four quick runs on two doubles, a walk and a vicious home run from Mark Canha.
The Angels matched the Athletics’ output in the bottom of the inning. Two walks and a Kole Calhoun single loaded the bases for backup catcher Juan Graterol, who laced a two-run double down the left-field line. Cliff Pennington then blooped an RBI single into center field, where an error allowed another run to score.
When Nolasco surrendered a leadoff double to Ryon Healy in the fifth, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called in reliever Cam Bedrosian, who let in a run with a wild pitch. Bedrosian would’ve let in another had Calhoun not chased down a drive to right.
The Angels pushed across two runs in the fifth and two in the sixth, Andrelton Simmons sparking the initial rally with a double, and an Oakland error continuing the second.
Right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, another nonroster-reliever success story, allowed a run in two innings before Parker took over for the eighth. He was not sharp, and neither was Norris, who replaced him. The two men yielded the Angels’ lead on three singles, two doubles and one home run.
Parker regretted nothing. He said he’d throw the same fastball again that led to Khris Davis’ home run. Norris lamented one pitch he made — a 2-and-2 slider he left over the plate for Bruce Maxwell, who singled in the tying and go-ahead runs.
“I needed to bounce a slider,” Norris said. “It caught too much of the plate.”
So, the Angels trailed as they batted in the bottom of the eighth. C.J. Cron doubled, Simmons took a fastball off his ribs and Calhoun moved them up a base with a one-out tap-out. After a walk to load the bases, pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena struck out swinging, and the Angels went down in order in the ninth.
The last inning was quick; the other eight were not. The 4-hour 12-minute affair became by 10 minutes the longest nine-inning game in Angel Stadium’s 51-year history.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura