It was not the defining moment of Monday night’s game, at least not in comparison to Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel’s dominant 72/3-inning effort and the two-run homers Evan Gattis and Carlos Correa hit in Houston’s 6-3 victory over the Angels.
But Erick Aybar’s ill-advised dash in an effort to take both second and third base on a wild pitch in the top of the first inning reeked of desperation and set a bad tone to start a critical three-game series between two playoff contenders.
The speedy Aybar creates plenty of runs with his aggressive — and sometimes daring — baserunning, but Houston catcher Jason Castro, who was initially slow to pursue the ball on the third-base side of the plate, threw out Aybar by several feet this time.
The play might have cost the Angels a run, as Mike Trout followed with a hard single to left field and Albert Pujols flied out to deep center.
“Erick plays with his heart,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “That’s probably not the read you were looking for there, but he plays so hard, he thought he had a shot. With the ball on the third-base side of plate, it’s going to be a shorter throw. He felt he had the time on his side. Obviously, he didn’t.”
Holding out hope
An MRI test Monday confirmed a left ankle sprain for setup man Joe Smith, who suffered the injury when he tripped on the steps of the team hotel in Minneapolis on Saturday.
The Angels remain hopeful that Smith will pitch again this season, but most athletes need at least two weeks to recover from even mild sprains, so Smith, who is on crutches and in a walking boot, appears doubtful, at least for the rest of the regular season.
“It’s impossible to make that call right now,” Scioscia said. “I think when he gets his arm activated, that will start to give us an idea how he is, how his foot feels when he starts moving around.”
In Smith’s absence, closer Huston Street said he would be willing to attempt four- and five-out saves. Scioscia said he is open to the idea, “but there’s only so many times you can play that card,” he said. “We’ll use it when we feel it’s going to help us win the game.”
The Angels rallied for two runs with two outs in the ninth inning Monday when David Freese doubled, David Murphy singled, Carlos Perez walked and Collin Cowgill singled. They brought the tying run to the plate in Aybar, but Astros closer Luke Gregerson came on and got Aybar to ground out to second to end the game. . . . Tickets for a potential wild-card game and division series playoff games will go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. on the team’s website (www.angels.com). Fans will be limited to four tickets per game per household.