Until Albert Pujols hits his 600th career home run, the Angels' games will consist of an odd cadence. Everything is a buildup to the 37-year-old designated hitter's next plate appearance. All else is superfluous.
But such a structure will more often than not produce nothing of note. On Friday night at Angel Stadium, the assembled fans rose for Pujols' chances four times, sat down without a word four times, and left unhappy as the Angels lost a laugher, 11-5, to the Minnesota Twins. Pujols pressed to give the crowd what it sought and struck out in his first two chances.
"His first couple at-bats tonight, there is no doubt he was coming out of his swing," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Meanwhile, JC Ramirez's season-long struggles in the first inning returned after a one-game respite. After Robbie Grossman's one-out double, Ramirez threw a 3-and-1 fastball down the middle and Joe Mauer lifted it 399 feet for a home run to left-center.
Ramirez encountered further trouble in the third inning, when Brian Dozier singled and Grossman launched a two-run homer to right field. Mauer lined out, but Miguel Sano singled and Max Kepler drilled another two-run homer, to right.
Ramirez remained in the game for two more innings. He exited in the fifth when a hit-by-pitch and two singles produced the seventh run charged to him. He has made only 10 major league starts, but this was by far his worst. Twice he'd allowed five runs, but never more, and he had never failed to finish five innings. His earned-run average rose from 3.38 to 4.11, though it remains the best of any Angels starting pitcher this season.
"They're not all going to be seven innings, two runs," Ramirez said.
Yusmeiro Petit replaced him and finished the fifth and sixth with alacrity. Deolis Guerra entered for the seventh and permitted four runs on four singles, a double and a wild pitch. Rookie Keynan Middleton picked up with two outs in the eighth and logged his eighth consecutive scoreless appearance.
Middleton is the only reliever in the Angels' current bullpen who can be freely optioned to the minor leagues, and the club may soon remove one reliever when Cam Bedrosian is activated. But Middleton is rendering the prospect it will be him increasingly unlikely.
The Angels (28-30) faced Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson, a sinker specialist who took with him to the mound a ghastly 7.85 ERA. But it took the Angels until the sixth to string together their first rally. Eric Young Jr. led it off with a double, Andrelton Simmons walked, and Kole Calhoun slapped a runs-scoring single to center field.
That set runners at the corners for Pujols, but he grounded into a double play on the second pitch he saw, scoring a second run. Yunel Escobar doubled to left, and Luis Valbuena's walk elicited Gibson's exit, but Martin Maldonado flied out against reliever Alex Wimmers, and the Angels' offense produced little else until Danny Espinosa's ninth-inning homer.
Pujols later grounded out in the eighth. He has come up empty in 15 chances to generate his 600th home run.
It was, altogether, a night the Angels will want to forget. Perhaps the only thing they will seek to remember occurred before the game, when their reliever Blake Parker beat Twins reserve infielder Eduardo Escobar in an annual cow-milking contest behind home plate. Parker later pitched the ninth inning, when Escobar pinch-hit and struck out against him.
Parker, who was raised in Arkansas but had never milked a cow, prepared by watching a YouTube video, wherein the host said everyone must experience milking once in their lives.
"This is my time to shine right here," he thought.