The Angels have run out of duct tape trying to hold their team together, somehow remaining in playoff contention despite an endless string of injuries that has depleted their roster.
Those postseason hopes were punctured on Thursday by the scorching-hot Cleveland Indians, who rode shortstop Francisco Lindor’s tiebreaking, three-run fifth-inning homer to a 4-1 victory before an announced crowd of 29,863 in Angel Stadium that appeared about half that size.
With a three-game sweep, the American League Central-champion Indians have won 27 of 28 games since Aug. 24, a stretch that included a 22-game win streak that was the second-longest in major league history.
“Man, what have they won, 27 of 28? It’s a joke. It’s unbelievable,” Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun said. “It wasn’t our day. It wasn’t our series. Every hop went their way, and when you’re hot, you’re hot.”
When you’re not, you’re the Angels, who have lost four straight for the first time since mid-April. Faint as it is, the Angels still have a pulse. They trail Minnesota by 2 1/2 games for the second wild-card spot.
But now the days grow short, as Frank Sinatra would sing, and the Angels are in the autumn of the year. Only 10 games remain, and they must find a way out of this mini-funk if they are to reach the wild-card game.
“We can’t look to see what the Twins are doing,” center fielder Mike Trout said. “It doesn’t matter if they win or lose, we have to win.”
A potential road block lies ahead. The Angels open a three-game series at AL West-champion Houston and tough right-hander Justin Verlander on Friday night.
After four games against the lowly White Sox in Chicago next week, they’ll close with three home games against the fading Seattle Mariners.
“We still have to go out and play loose,” Calhoun said, “but there has to be a sense of urgency, for sure.”
That feeling of desperation hit the Angels in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game on Thursday when Yan Gomes led off with a popup to shallow right-center field.
Brandon Phillips ran back from second base. Trout raced in from center but couldn’t find the ball in the sun. Calhoun rushed in from right and made a late call for the ball, which clanged off the heel of his glove for a single.
Giovanny Urshela lined a single off the glove of leaping shortstop Andrelton Simmons. After Erik Gonzalez bunted into a fielder’s choice, Lindor crushed a 91-mph Parker Bridwell fastball, sending his 32nd homer — and second tiebreaking shot in two days — into the shrubs beyond the center-field wall for a 4-1 lead.
Lindor’s two-run shot snapped a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s 6-5 win.
“There were a lot of things involved — there was wind, there was sun, there was positioning,” manager Mike Scioscia said of Gomes’ hit. “It was kind of in the Bermuda Triangle, and Kole was the guy at the last second who had the best run at it. He went a long way for the ball and couldn’t get to it.”
Said Calhoun: “Nobody was really calling for it. I tried to give it my best effort, but the ball was out there in no-man’s land.”
Thursday’s game started well for the Angels. They took their first lead in six games against the Indians this season when Trout walked with one out in the first and scored on Albert Pujols’ two-out double to left-center off starter Danny Salazar, giving Pujols 98 RBIs on the season.
Had Phillips not been gunned down by Cleveland right fielder Jay Bruce trying to stretch a leadoff single into a double, the Angels would have scored twice.
Two pitches into the second, the lead was gone. Edwin Encarnacion drove a hanging curve from Bridwell into the left-field seats for his 37th homer and a 1-1 tie.
The Angels threatened off reliever Andrew Miller in the seventh when Calhoun walked, Simmons reached on an infield single and Luis Valbuena walked to load the bases with one out.
But Miller, the 6-foot-7 left-hander who has been slowed since early August by right-knee tendinitis, struck out C.J. Cron on three pitches, the second a slider in the dirt and the third an elevated 95-mph fastball. Martin Maldonado then struck out on three pitches, the last an inside slider, and the rally fizzled.
“They’re a terrific club, they’re deep in a lot of areas,” Scioscia said. “When you open up the door for a good team like that, you’re pretty sure they’re going to take advantage, and they did this afternoon.”
Former closer Bud Norris will start Saturday in Houston in place of the injured Andrew Heaney, the right-hander’s second start in nine days. Norris gave up one hit in two scoreless innings of a 7-6 win over Texas last Friday night, a game in which the Angels used seven relievers. … Heaney, sidelined since Sept. 9 because of shoulder soreness, played catch Thursday and hopes to throw off a mound this weekend. … Third baseman Yunel Escobar, out since Aug. 8 because of an oblique strain, will travel to Arizona to face live pitching in instructional league games next week in hopes of returning for the final week. … Maldonado caught his major league-leading 131st game Thursday, the most by an Angels catcher since Lance Parrish’s 131 in 1990.
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