The Angels at times took exception Thursday night to home plate umpire Mark Ripperger’s version of the strike zone.
Twice, the Angel did.
Mike Trout took called third strikes in the first and fifth innings, the second resulting in the Angels center fielder reacting with perhaps as much animation as he has ever directed at an umpire.
The unlikely snapshot captured the frustration of a team on its way to a 4-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners that completed a lengthy trip that felt rather incomplete.
The loss dropped the Angels (44-44) back to .500 asthey finished a four-city, 10-game journey at 3-7.
They also lost two of three to the Mariners, who again have a 12-game edge on the Angels for the American League’s second wild-card berth.
The teams will meet again for three more games starting Tuesday in Anaheim, the Angels probably needing a sweep to at least get the Mariners’ attention.
For now, they have no choice but to deal with their fate in much the same way Trout had no option Thursday but to walk away before risking the first ejection of his career.
Replays and enhanced graphics suggested that Trout had a point, both third strikes appearing to be just wide. But until baseball starts calling pitches with laser beams and the like, there will be room for dispute.
“Mike never argues,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “I haven’t seen the pitches [on replay], but I guarantee you he doesn’t argue without merit.”
It wasn’t just the umpiring that was a source of consternation for the Angels. Coming off a game in which they had six hits in 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position, they went hitless in eight such opportunities.
“We just didn’t pressure them enough offensively,” Scioscia said. “We did put guys on early, for sure.”
Indeed, five of those at-bats came in the first three innings, five chances that disappeared quickly.
Albert Pujols grounded into a bases-loaded double play to end the first inning, Kole Calhoun and David Fletcher struck out with a runner on second in the second and Justin Upton and Pujols were retired with a runner on second in the third.
After Calhoun drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth, the Angels managed little until the eighth.
With two on and one out, pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena struck out and Ian Kinsler lined a ball toward center field that Seattle second baseman Dee Gordon snagged with a highlight-quality dive.
With Shohei Ohtani available to pinch-hit as the potential tying run, Scioscia opted instead to use Valbuena.
Ohtani was on deck to hit for Martin Maldonado when Gordon ended the Angels’ final threat. He pinch-hit to lead off the ninth and struck out against Seattle closer Edwin Diaz.
The loss went to Jaime Barria, who gave up an RBI single to Gordon in the third and an RBI double to Guillermo Heredia in the fifth.
Otherwise, he kept the Mariners off the scoreboard through 51/3 innings, mostly working around five hits and three walks.
These six games in 10 days against Seattle have been viewed as the Angels’ chance to set the direction for the remainder of their season.
The team that was tied for first in the American League West as late as mid-May now returns to Southern California for the final homestand before the All-Star break entrenched in fourth place, much closer to last place than first.