The Angels rallied in the wake of a season-ending injury to their best pitcher, Garrett Richards, in August and got so hot they turned a four-game American League West deficit on Aug.10 into a runaway division title.
They toiled through a six-month season, bolstering their beleaguered bullpen in July, and finished with a major league-best 98-64 record to earn an important prize, home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
A lot of good that did them.
Two home games into the AL division series against Kansas City, the Angels are in danger of getting Royal-flushed out of the playoffs.
Eric Hosmer ripped a Kevin Jepsen 95-mph fastball for a two-run homer to right field Friday night, the key blow of a three-run 11th inning that pushed Kansas City to a 4-1 victory over the Angels and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
The Angels will travel to Kansas City and must win two games in frenzied Kauffman Stadium just to force a Game 5 next Wednesday in Anaheim.
Only eight teams in major league history have overcome 0-2 deficits to win a five-game playoff series, the last one the San Francisco Giants over Cincinnati in 2012. Oh, and the Angels will be facing Royals ace James Shields in Game 3 on Sunday while countering with their most erratic pitcher, left-hander C.J. Wilson.
“Naturally, it’s not the position we want to be in, but nobody has their head buried in the sand,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “We need a three-game winning streak.”
Jepsen’s loss was the lone pockmark on a brilliant night of pitching for the Angels, who got six innings of one-run, five-hit ball from starter Matt Shoemaker and a combined four hitless innings from relievers Jason Grilli, Joe Smith and Huston Street, who threw two innings for the first time since April 8, 2011.
For the Angels to make a run at the Royals, they need to start hitting. Albert Pujols delivered a two-out RBI single in the sixth inning Friday night to make it a 1-1 game, but the Angels are batting .141 (10 for 71) with three runs in the series.
And their stars — Mike Trout (0 for 8), Pujols (one for eight), Howie Kendrick (one for nine) and Josh Hamilton (0 for 9) — are two for 34 with eight strikeouts.
“There are some guys that aren’t attacking the ball like they can for various reasons,” Scioscia said. “There is not one cure-all that’s going to get everybody swinging the bat.”
Even when they do come up with a big hit, such as C.J. Cron’s leadoff double in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, their rallies are snuffed out. Chris Iannetta flied to medium left-center, pinch-runner Collin Cowgill tagged from second, and center fielder Jarrod Dyson fired a one-hopper to third to nail Cowgill.
“He went on his own, and that’s a great play by Collin,” Scioscia said. “He’s aggressive. He made the read. Dyson made an incredible throw.”
Lorenzo Cain started the winning rally by beating out a chopper over the mound, Hosmer hit his homer, and the Royals tacked on an unearned run en route to becoming the first team in major league history to win three consecutive extra-inning playoff games.
Royals rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura was dominant through seven innings, mixing a fastball that touched 102 mph with a sharp curve to limit the Angels to one run and five hits.
“His stuff was electric,” said Angels third baseman David Freese, who grounded into a double play with two on and no outs in the fifth. “They’ve got good arms over there, and they’re making the plays, getting timely hits and doing what they need to do to win.”
The Angels, who won 10 straight games in early September, believe they can do the same.
“The Royals played well, but they’ve got to win that third game, they’ve got to finish it, and our focus is to play the next one,” Street said. “This team has proven all year long that it can get hot and get hot in a pretty big way.”
Shoemaker hadn’t pitched in 18 days because of a mild left rib-cage strain, but he showed no ill effects of the injury Thursday night, giving up only one unearned run on Alex Gordon’s RBI single in the second.
“All we’ve got to do is win three games in a row,” Shoemaker said, “and we’ve done that plenty of times this year.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna