The pitch floated right into Mike Trout’s wheelhouse, an 80-mph changeup that barely grazed the bottom of the zone. Trout unleashed a mighty swing on the ball and sent it soaring 428 feet to center field.
The two-run homer off Seattle Mariners starter Marco Gonzales, who had kept Trout off the bases until that pitch, allowed the Angels to tie Friday night’s game at Angel Stadium in the eighth inning. Trout flipped the bat out of his hands and commenced his sixth home run trot of the season.
But in an eventual 5-3 loss, the Angels’ fifth in a row, the lasting image of a failed comeback was of Cody Allen. Before the Angels closer could get an out, Tim Beckham and Omar Narvaez hit back-to-back solo homers in the ninth inning on breaking balls that hovered too high in the zone. For the second night in a row, Allen entered a tied game in the ninth and allowed the Mariners to take the lead.
“Last couple days have been really frustrating,” Allen said. “But it’s early in the season; it’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of time to get this ship going in the right direction. All it takes is one good day and we can kind of get some momentum going.”
And for the second time in a week, Angels first baseman Justin Bour had to stand in front of his locker to explain his botched play.
The Angels (8-12) might have had more to show for their eighth-inning rally if Bour hadn’t assumed he was out when he popped a ball over the infield with Brian Goodwin attempting to steal second. Goodwin scurried back to first as Ryon Healy awaited the ball in his glove. But Healy allowed the ball to drop. He then turned an inning-ending double play as Bour, who never ran to first, stood watching.
Last Saturday in Chicago, Bour was tagged out when he assumed he’d been called out trying to stretch a single into a double. The second-base umpire called him safe on the slide, but Bour already had turned back to the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Cubs shortstop Javier Baez chased him down and applied the tag for an inning-ending out.
He expressed regret after that game, and Friday’s play left him more aggrieved.
“Honestly there’s really no excuse for it,” Bour said. “It’s embarrassing. That’s something you’re taught from the day you start playing baseball. There’s no excuse for it. That can never happen again.”
Said manager Brad Ausmus: “It’ll never happen again in his career. It was just an extreme mental error that once it happens, it never reoccurs.”
Angels starter Felix Pena was let off the hook. He threw five innings for the first time this season and made it through the Mariners lineup rather efficiently. He threw only 39 of 71 pitches for strikes, but he did a formidable job commanding his pitches. He threw his slider 32 times and got four swinging strikes and six called strikes with it. He gave up two hits — both home runs — and two walks.
Yet with the Angels trailing 3-1 after five innings, Ausmus chose to go to his bullpen instead of allowing his starter to go deeper into the game. Ausmus rarely enjoys the luxury of long outings by his starters, and the question has been asked of Ausmus often: How can you get more innings out of your starting pitching?
Each time, Ausmus has said it’s a problem he’s trying to work through. On Friday afternoon, he offered a different perspective.
“The games have been really close and kind of that third time through the lineup, if we think that we got an option with the strong ’pen down there that we have … we’re going to do it,” he said. “So there have been times where I’ve gone out there and after 4-1/3, 4-2/3 [innings] and made a change because we’re trying to win games. We’re going to go with our strengths.”
That’s by design. General manager Billy Eppler set out during the offseason to build a bullpen full of what he described as high-octane arms — pitchers who could throw hard and miss bats. Although they’ve been overworked, Eppler’s plan mostly has worked to his favor. He’s got pitchers — Ty Buttrey, Luis Garcia and Hansel Robles — who can throw harder than 95 mph. He’s also got a collection of others — Buttrey, Robles, Allen, Noe Ramirez and Cam Bedrosian — who have struck out more than 25% of the batters they’ve faced.
The results gave Ausmus confidence to make a move like he did Friday night, when he summoned Buttrey from the bullpen to face the heart of the Mariners order in the sixth inning so he could keep the game close enough for his hitters to mount a comeback.
Buttrey allowed a walk and a ground-rule double after retiring two batters, but struck out Beckham whiffing at an 85-mph slider. Left-hander Dillon Peters worked around two baserunners in a scoreless seventh. Robles allowed a walk in a scoreless eighth. But Allen’s outing went sideways.
“You have to” turn the page, Allen said. “You don’t really have a choice. I don’t think I’d be where I was if I didn’t learn how to do that early on. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to show up tomorrow and just prepare and go compete.”