There was plenty of energy and electricity produced outside of Tropicana Field on Thursday, as scattered thunderstorms and heavy downpours rattled the roof of the domed stadium throughout the afternoon.
Inside, the atmosphere was much more placid.
The loss of their best hitter, Mike Trout, to a right wrist injury and the limited availability of Shohei Ohtani, a lethal left-handed bat, rendered the Angels virtually powerless against the Tampa Bay Rays, who completed a three-game sweep with a 4-2 victory before a crowd of 10,988.
The Angels managed only three hits and struck out 13 times against four Rays pitchers. Unable to find a pinch-hitting spot with runners on base or in scoring position for Ohtani, manager Mike Scioscia sent the slugger up to hit for rookie catcher Jose Briceno to lead off the eighth inning. Ohtani struck out.
“It didn’t look like we expanded [the strike zone], but definitely, when we had some pitches to hit, we didn’t put them in play hard,” Scioscia said. “If those guys were chasing, it would be one thing, but they weren’t.”
The Angels had one hit and three base runners through six scoreless innings and were trailing 4-0 when they finally put a dent in Rays pitching in the seventh.
Justin Upton, who doubled in the first and walked in the fourth, led off with a single to right field and took third on Albert Pujols’ double to left. Andrelton Simmons scored Upton and advanced Pujols to third with a groundout to second.
Jefry Marte followed with another RBI groundout to second to pull the Angels to within 4-2, but Kaleb Cowart struck out to end the inning. Rays right-hander Diego Castillo struck out two in a scoreless eighth, and Sergio Romo struck out two of three batters in a clean ninth for the save.
“We just didn’t have the continuity on the offensive side,” Scioscia said. “Justin and Albert got us going with a single and a double in the seventh, but those guys bent but didn’t break. They gave up a couple of runs but got out of the jam, and we weren’t able to keep pressing the action.”
Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney registered quality starts in each of his previous five games, allowing 11 earned runs in 34 1/3 innings for a 2.88 ERA in that span, and he cruised through three scoreless, one-hit innings on Thursday, needing only nine pitches to retire the side in order in the third.
The fourth inning was a 30-pitch slog. Matt Duffy opened with a single to right field. Daniel Robertson singled to left-center. Tommy Pham was hit in the back foot by a full-count breaking ball to load the bases with no outs.
Heaney may have struck out C.J. Cron with a 1-and-2 fastball that was up and in but inside the strike-zone box on the television broadcast of the game. Umpire Alan Porter called it a ball. Cron, the former Angels slugger, grounded the next pitch into center field for a two-run single.
“I didn’t see the replay,” Heaney said of the 1-and-2 pitch to Cron. “I knew it was close…. A lot of balls get called inside the box, outside the box. I know it’s a tough job they have. At that point in time, he called it a ball, and I have to make a better 2-2 pitch.”
Both runners advanced on Jake Bauers’ tapper to the first-base side of the mound. Pham scored on a wild pitch and Willy Adames’ sacrifice fly to center field pushed the Rays’ lead to 4-0.
“I don’t think what happened that inning was because of a lack of confidence; it was a lack of execution,” Heaney said. “It was making bad pitches at the wrong time, and putting guys on without making them earn it is gonna hurt you eventually.”
Heaney, who gave up four runs and six hits in six innings Thursday, striking out five and walking none, has been dominant this season at home, where he is 6-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 10 starts. But Thursday’s loss dropped him to 0-5 with a 5.30 ERA on the road.
His last win away from Angel Stadium was on Sept. 2, 2015, at Oakland, though it should be noted Heaney missed most of 2016 and 2017 because of elbow surgery.
The Rays employed a strategy they’ve used since mid-May, starting a reliever known as an “opener” instead of a traditional starting pitcher.
Right-hander Hunter Wood, who became 15th starting pitcher Tampa Bay has used this season, a franchise record, struck out five of the seven batters he faced in two scoreless innings.
Wood struck out David Fletcher and Kole Calhoun with 94-mph fastballs to open the game before allowing a double to Upton. Pujols grounded out to end the inning. Wood struck out the side in the second, Simmons with a curve and Luis Valbuena (94 mph) and Cowart (95 mph) with fastballs.
Left-hander Jalen Beeks replaced Wood to start the third and threw four hitless innings, striking out three, before faltering in the seventh.