Before the Oakland Athletics bludgeoned them in a 7-2 loss Friday night, the Angels had employed an opener 15 times.
Only on three occasions had an opponent scored off the Angels reliever tasked with retiring the first three to six batters of the game. It was a rather high success rate, one that made the Angels comfortable foregoing a traditional fifth starter.
But the flaws of relying on a new-wave trend were exposed on an evening that Oakland’s Matt Olson, who reached base all four times he came to the plate, didn’t let a single mistake go unscathed. He barreled a dangling 89-mph fastball from opener Noe Ramirez for a two-run homer in the first inning. Olson scooped primary pitcher Felix Pena’s low slider onto lumber in his next at-bat and launched the pitch 408 feet to right field for a three-run blast and 5-0 Oakland lead.
“He’s good on the ball down,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of Olson, who has nine homers in his last 23 games. “I think coupled with the fact that he’s seeing the ball very well, that’s why we saw some hard-hit balls from him tonight.”
Pena was charged only those three runs in five innings. He struck out seven or more for the fifth time this season. He settled down despite fumbling with his command and issuing four walks.
The Angels might have had a chance to flip their luck if not for a seventh-inning sequence in which Luke Bard allowed a single, balked, threw a wild pitch and surrendered a two-run homer to Mark Canha.
A’s starter Mike Fiers unbalanced the Angels offense as he did in two previous starts this year in which he held them to three runs in 12 innings. He scattered six hits and struck out four in 6-2/3 innings. The only bit of trouble came in the sixth, on Albert Pujols’ single that scored Shohei Ohtani and cut the Angels’ deficit to 5-1.
“He stays out of pattern,” Ausmus said. “He’s smart. He’s been around. Quite frankly he’s handled us pretty easily all year long.”
Some 24 hours after the Angels reveled in having Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton in the lineup for the first time this season, neither played Friday. It showed. The Angels (42-41) collected only eight hits, with David Fletcher going one for two, drawing two walks and scoring a run. Their four-game winning streak was snapped.