The Angels believed they hit baseballs hard all night Wednesday and all across Tropicana Field. The statistics showed four hits for their efforts and a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay.
“It doesn’t matter how hard you hit the ball if it doesn’t fall,” Albert Pujols said. “We hit some hard balls, but we came up short. They hit a couple balls hard and they scored more than us.”
With one out in the first inning, Mike Trout pounded a fastball off of the center-field wall for a double. Pujols soon smashed the 597th home run of his career to left field, and the Angels possessed a quick lead.
An inning later, starter Ricky Nolasco yielded it. He issued a leadoff walk to Logan Morrison, then, with two outs, fired a fastball along the outer edge of the strike zone to Steven Souza. With a 0-and-1 count, Souza tracked it and hammered it high into the air, 423 feet from home plate. The score was tied.
An inning after that, the Rays moved ahead on back-to-back one-out doubles by Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier. Nolasco then walked Evan Longoria, eliciting a visit from pitching coach Charles Nagy. When Logan Morrison flied out to left field, both runners moved up, but Nolasco struck out Beckham and marched forward.
He next gave up a hit in the sixth, when Longoria led off with an infield single. But shortstop Andrelton Simmons noticed that Longoria had made a minor move to advance to second, so he threw to first and obtained the out. Morrison then doubled, so the alertness likely saved a run. Nolasco might have saved another when he spun and fired to second to pick off Morrison.
Nolasco lasted two batters into the seventh. He fell behind to both, Rasmus and Souza, and both subsequently slammed home runs. The 34-year-old right-hander has given up 16 homers this season, second most in the major leagues.
“No real reason to explain,” Nolasco said when asked for an explanation. “Tonight, they just hit a couple mistakes.”
He’s on pace to permit more than 50 homers. His previous career-worst is 28.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he thought the problem stemmed from fastballs over the middle of the plate. When Nolasco succeeded after his August acquisition, he was layering the bottom third of the zone with sinking fastballs.
“It seems like, right now, his fastball command isn’t as crisp as it was the end of the year when he pitched well for us,” Scioscia said.
Through three tight games in this series, the Angels (25-24) have scored nine runs on 18 hits and held the Rays to five runs on 15 hits.
Facing Rays right-hander Erasmo Ramirez and an array of hard throwers in relief on Wednesday, the Angels mustered four hits, none after the fourth inning. There was the first-inning salvo. Then, Trout doubled in the third and Simmons doubled in the fourth. Neither man advanced past second.
For the 43rd time in franchise history, the Angels did not produce a single, though they did hit five groundouts that MLB’s Statcast clocked at faster than 90 mph.
“I think everybody in our lineup hit the ball hard twice, and not a lot to show for it,” Scioscia said. “Sometimes, that’s the way it goes.”
Ramirez is unrelated to the Angels’ JC Ramirez, but the two are friends. They hail from nearby cities in their native Nicaragua, which produces few big leaguers.
At 5 feet 10, the Rays’ Ramirez is one of the shortest pitchers in the sport, six inches smaller than the Angels’ Ramirez.
JC Ramirez said most Nicaraguans are not blessed with height, which hinders their athletic aspirations. He credits his height to his Cuban father.