As the Angels took the field for the first time in five days Friday night at Angel Stadium, Mike Trout did so for the first time in a long time, nervous, excited, ready to return from the first disabled list stint of his career. He said it felt like opening day.
"Obviously," Trout said, "I was anxious to be out there."
As the Angels reconvened for 2017's second half of 2017 upbeat and hopeful to welcome back their superstar, Friday's game supplied an unsatisfying reminder to the club and its fans: Flaws still abound. Trout struck out on three pitches to finalize their 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay in 10 innings.
The Angels (45-48) outhit the Rays, but not when the hits mattered most. They were hitless in seven opportunities with runners in scoring position.
"That's been plaguing us most of the year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
To start the Angels' second half, Scioscia selected Ricky Nolasco, the 34-year-old right-hander whom he also chose to commence their season. He carried a 4-10 record, a 5.06 earned-run average, and an uneven track record into the evening. In his last five starts, he had been wonderful or terrible, lacking any in-between.
He extended his streak and turned in a tremendous seven-inning, one-run outing, his one blip a solo shot from Evan Longoria in Friday's first inning. After missing with his first pitch, Nolasco tried to establish a fastball for a strike and Longoria unloaded.
"He jumped me there," Nolasco said.
Nolasco has been jumped often this season. Longoria's strike was the American League-worst 26th home run he has surrendered, as many as he allowed all of last year.
The Angels faced 23-year-old Rays rookie right-hander Jacob Faria, who grew up in Anaheim, attended nearby Gahr High in Cerritos and expected 200 friends and family members at Angel Stadium.
"Every inning, I'd come back in the dugout and there'd be someone behind the dugout," Faria said. "It was really fun to see everybody."
Undefeated in six starts since his debut last month, Faria made it seven. He struck out four Angels, walked two, and held them to a handful of hits. Only one counted for anything: In the Angels' half of the second, Pujols bashed his 605th career home run a few inches beyond the center-field wall, where Mallex Smith nearly caught it.
Hit in the helmet by a slider in the third inning, Cameron Maybin appeared to steal second base before a successful challenge reversed the call. Kole Calhoun next walked, Trout lashed a single up the middle and stole second, but Pujols hit a comebacker to end the inning.
In the fourth, the bases were loaded with two outs and Maybin approached the plate. He lined an 0-and-2 pitch to right field, where it was caught. Faria cruised the rest of his night.
"When he walked off the mound," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said, "it felt like we were at a Rays game, not an Angels game."
The Angels mustered a tiny rally in the bottom of the seventh, after both offenses slept through the middle innings. Martin Maldonado singled, Calhoun took a pitch off his back, and Trout batted with the go-ahead run in scoring position. Right-hander Tommy Hunter jogged in from the visiting bullpen for the occasion and hung a breaking ball with his first pitch.
Trout watched it go by for a strike. He swung at the next offering, a humming fastball along the outside edge, and grounded out to second.
"Some at-bats, I felt good," Trout said. "Some at-bats, I didn't."
Parker worked the eighth in five pitches. Hunter required only nine to retire three Angels in the bottom of the inning, and so it went onto the 10th.
Finally, Tampa Bay ceased the scoreless streak against Cam Bedrosian. Back-to-back two-out hits by Wilson Ramos and Brad Miller meant the decisive run.