For the bottom of the ninth inning in Sunday’s scoreless tie at Kauffman Stadium, Mike Scioscia had two relievers ready to pitch: journeyman Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian, who he’d later refer to as his best reliever.
He opted for the journeyman. Parker did not record an out, and the Angels lost, 1-0, to Kansas City, on a walk-off single. It was a well-pitched game that turned on one too many balls in the dirt, as Kansas City pinch-runner Raul Mondesi stole second base off Parker and took third on a wild pitch.
At that point, Scioscia called in Bedrosian, who induced a foul pop-out, then fell behind to Alcides Escobar. He delivered the winning single through a two-man outfield to hand the Angels their fifth consecutive loss.
“I just tried to make the perfect pitch,” said Parker, who took the loss.
Angels starter Tyler Skaggs lacked command early, twice escaping self-imposed peril. In the first inning, he gave up two two-out singles, then buried a curveball to strike out Cheslor Cuthbert swinging. With one out in the second, Escobar chopped a single into right. Home-plate umpire Chris Conroy squeezed Skaggs on a three-and-one fastball that appeared inside the strike zone, so Christian Colon walked.
Learning from similar struggles this month, Skaggs stepped off the mound, collected himself, and struck out Drew Butera and Alex Gordon.
“The first two innings, I was feeling for it,” Skaggs said. “But you need to keep attacking hitters. Today, I attacked the hitters, and I kept them off balance.”
He struck out the side in the third after issuing Lorenzo Cain a leadoff walk. Then at 60 pitches, Skaggs required only eight pitches to finish the fourth, and 21 between the fifth and sixth. He soon became the first Angel starter to throw a pitch in the seventh, when his steep curveballs started to fade.
But the young left-hander completed the task. In seven innings, he threw 103 pitches, the second-most of his career, and struck out nine Royals, tying his career-high.
“His curveball was basically unhittable,” Royals Manager Ned Yost said. “He spotted the fastball and dadgum, I don’t know how anybody hits that curveball.”
In Skaggs’ final innings, Yost tried to change his team’s luck by sitting in the batting cages, “trying to see if we could get something going.” He soon saw that they could not.
“How does anybody hit that?” Yost asked himself.
“I love this place,” Skaggs said. “It takes me back to a good place in time for me.”
The Angels were quiet all afternoon against Royals right-hander Ian Kennedy. C.J. Cron supplied the limited exceptions, first walloping a ball deep to center in the second inning. But Lorenzo Cain leapt to catch it at the center-field wall. Cron finally broke up Kennedy’s no-hit bid with two outs in the fifth inning, doubling to left-center for the Angels’ first extra-base hit of the series, 23 innings into it.
Over eight innings, Kennedy struck out 10 Angels and walked two.
“He did pretty much what Tyler was doing for us,” Scioscia said.
Angels left-hander Jose Alvarez entered for the eighth inning and retired the side in order, securing redemption after yielding the winning homer Saturday. Then, Scioscia picked Parker.
Given the time since his last appearance Tuesday, Bedrosian had developed a plan with pitching coach Charles Nagy to appear Sunday no matter what transpired.
He did, but too late. The manager decided he wanted to preserve his best reliever for a potential save situation.
“We didn’t really want him throwing 35 pitches today,” Scioscia said. “He might be able to do it now, but I think it’s different making 35 pitches saving a game and making 35 pitches to keep a game tied. Also, 35 pitches would be a lot for Cam, a lot at any time.”
Asked what he meant by the difference between throwing the same amount of pitches in a save situation or tie, Scioscia said he might have felt differently if he had a full bullpen. But JC Ramirez has moved to the rotation, Andrew Bailey’s on the disabled list, and another unnamed reliever was unable to pitch.
So, the Angels took the loss. Winners of six of eight games to start the season, they are now 6-7 and headed to Houston for a four-game series with the division-favorite Astros. In postgame interviews, players repeatedly stressed the length of the season.
“There will be stretches where everything goes well,” Skaggs said. “I’m looking forward to that stretch.”