Mike Trout tracked Zach Britton's fastball into the mitt of Matt Wieters during the ninth inning Saturday night at Angel Stadium. It was low, he knew. The count would be 2-0. Perhaps he'd see a pitch into which he could put a force, with a teammate on second and the Angels trailing by two runs with two outs.
When, behind the plate, Dale Scott signaled a strike, Trout turned around and put his hands to his head. He could not believe the call. He told Scott he thought the pitch hit the dirt. It nearly had. Two minutes earlier, Yunel Escobar had been ejected when he slammed his helmet to the dirt after Scott called another low pitch a strike.
"Obviously, they weren't strikes," Trout said. "They definitely changed the game."
Trout grounded out on Britton's next pitch, and the Angels lost, 3-1, to Baltimore in brutal fashion, the best start of Matt Shoemaker's life squandered by a nimble ninth-inning Orioles rally.
Down to their ultimate out against the Angels' temporary closer, Joe Smith, the Orioles strung together the at-bats they could not throughout the night. Chris Davis knocked a single up the middle. Mark Trumbo worked a two-strike walk against his former team. And Matt Wieters blasted the peremptory shock, a three-run home run to left-center field.
"Can't walk right-handed hitters in those situations," Smith said. "It bit me again. When you walk guys, you pay for it."
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia was angry about the umpiring for the second consecutive night. On Friday, Scott defended home-plate umpire John Tumpane's decision to toss the Angels' starting pitcher in the third inning. On Saturday, he was the culprit.
"Dale Scott's a good umpire, but obviously he had a rough inning," Scioscia said. "It's pretty safe to say those pitches weren't close to strikes."
Said Britton: "I got pretty fortunate."
Smith was unwilling to talk about the rulings that had his teammates furious.
"It's all irrelevant if I do my job," he said.
Pressed into closing duty for most of a month because of an injury to Huston Street, Smith had converted all five of his save chances. It had been more than a week since he allowed a baserunner, and he retired Saturday's first two Orioles with ease. And then came the plight.
Only one item of note had emerged from the game's first eight innings: Shoemaker's bid at perfection and his subsequent settling for dominance. He made it more than halfway.
"That's the best game, I think, Matt has pitched," Scioscia said.
The first batter to reach base against him, Wieters, came up with two outs in the fifth inning and lined a ball into left field, where Rafael Ortega gave chase. His diving attempt at a catch came up about a foot short.
Shoemaker permitted another hit, a Ryan Flaherty single, with one out in the sixth. Two batters later, he lucked out when he hung an 0-2 changeup to Manny Machado, the Orioles' burgeoning superstar. Machado jumped on it, slamming it to left. The ball landed a few feet to the left of the foul pole. Shocked, Shoemaker buried a subsequent slider to strike him out and become the first major leaguer to strike out Machado three times in the same game.
Shoemaker's season, to date, had been an abject disaster. The Angels sent him to triple A at the start of this month. He entered Saturday with an 8.49 earned-run average, a half-run worse than any other American League pitcher who had thrown 20 innings this season. He exited it with a 6.81 mark.
"I know what I'm capable of," Shoemaker said. "Now it's just a matter of doing it on a normal basis."
Shoemaker did not issue a walk. He struck out a career-high 12. His previous season-high had been five.
Scioscia pulled him when the victim of his second strikeout in the eighth reached base on a dropped third strike by rookie catcher Jett Bandy. Shoemaker threw 95 pitches. Fernando Salas replaced him, and Johnny Giavotella turned a smooth play from second base to end the inning.
Shoemaker himself benefited from a remarkable play to end the third, as Flaherty ripped a ball that boomeranged off his foot back to Bandy, who threw to first base just in time to secure the out.
Facing the talented, hard-throwing right-hander Kevin Gausman, the Angels got their first two men on in the first inning but could not score. They delivered their only extra-base hit with two outs in the seventh, when Gregorio Petit doubled to the wall.
Quickly, Escobar singled to center to drive in Petit and chase Gausman. The Baltimore right-hander tipped his cap to Scott as he walked off the field. To that point, there had been no sources of discontent. Shoemaker said Scott's zone was great "throughout the game" — until it wasn't.
"That ninth inning, everybody saw what the pitch was," Shoemaker said.
The Angels had been 15-0 when they led after eight innings in 2016. They are 19-24 in totality, 6 1/2 games back of division-leading Seattle, struggling to subsist while many of their top players try to return from injury. Saturday's loss was another bruising blow in a season already approaching black.
"This one," Trout said, "hurts a little bit."