The 2017 Angels are not a great ballclub, but until Sunday afternoon in Toronto, they had preserved leads like one. They were the only team in the sport to win every game they once led by three runs this season.
They soiled that feat in mortifying fashion at Rogers Centre, frittering away a six-run, ninth-inning lead in 20 minutes. The first five Blue Jays to bat reached base against Brooks Pounders and closer Bud Norris, after manager Mike Scioscia quickly aborted his plan to rest Norris. That halved the lead. Soon Toronto's potential winning run approached the plate with the bases loaded and one out.
Norris missed badly with his first two pitches, supplying ex-teammate Steve Pearce the advantage. Pearce readied for a fastball, which Norris tried to place low and along the outside of the strike zone. He missed again, up, and Pearce drilled it into the seats. The Blue Jays won 11-10, the remnants of a sold-out crowd went wild and Norris' hands went to his head.
"I can't sum it up yet," he said. "It's humbling, something to really learn from."
Straining believability, both men had also been involved in walk-off slams within a week. Pearce clocked one Thursday, while Norris, the Angels' most prominent trade chip, surrendered one Tuesday in Cleveland.
"A lot's been going on in my head and everything else," Norris said. "But, in the heat of the moment, I have to stay focused on what I can control."
Until the ninth, the Angels' afternoon hummed along. They were nearing their first series sweep since mid-May and a pleasant cross-continent flight ahead of Monday's day off. They pounded lackluster Blue Jays pitching, played their standard brand of solid defense, and withstood another mediocre starting pitching performance, this time from Jesse Chavez.
With one out in the first inning against Blue Jays journeyman Cesar Valdez, Mike Trout punched a first-pitch single into left, and Albert Pujols launched a two-run shot past the wall in left-center field.
Chavez then yielded a home run to Ezequiel Carrera on his second pitch. He again faltered in the third, after the Angels had moved far in front, and permitted four runs in his five taxing innings.
"Good and bad, as usual," Chavez said. "This sucks."
Kaleb Cowart led off the Angels' half of the third with a liner to right he stretched into a triple. Yunel Escobar whacked Valdez's next pitch off of the left-field wall for a double. Trout walked, and Pujols pulled an outside pitch into left field to drive in Escobar. Kole Calhoun tapped a double-play ball to second, but shortstop Ryan Goins came off the base while receiving the throw and all Angels were safe.
When Andrelton Simmons doubled, the Angels had their fourth run of the inning, still without recording an out. As Toronto changed pitchers, Calhoun exited because of a right hamstring injury. He felt the muscle twinge while he ran out the grounder; he will undergo an MRI examination Monday in Anaheim.
"I'm definitely concerned, but tomorrow's gonna tell us a lot more," Calhoun said. "We don't really know anything other than it's sore."
The rally fizzled, though the Angels tacked on later runs. In the sixth, Pujols made the score 9-4 with a solo shot, and that made Sunday his first multi-homer day of the season. He had finished Saturday on an 0-for-24 hitless streak, the second-longest of his career, yet Scioscia had insisted Pujols was not in need of a rest. For the day, Scioscia proved correct.
The Angels (51-55) suffered their most monumental collapse of the season, one they began by pulling off all kinds of improbable comeback victories. As they fell six games out of playoff position, they learned the frustration incurred on the opposite end.
And their manager argued that it was not a collapse.
"I don't think we let anything slip away today," Scioscia said. "I think those guys took it."