Sixteen games into his first foray as a big league starter, five innings into Tuesday's holiday matinee, JC Ramirez had thrown 97 pitches to the Minnesota Twins and permitted three runs.
His stuff was neither excellent nor awful. He had just chugged along. Only once had he ever reached 100 pitches, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia elected to give him another chance. Ramirez started the sixth inning, and it became immediately clear his command had vanished.
"He was getting a little tired, but we thought he had enough to see if he could get a couple outs or get through that inning," Scioscia said. "His warmups weren't the same. He didn't look the same."
He didn't pitch the same. Ramirez left a fastball over the plate with his 100th pitch. Eddie Rosario lashed a double, and Scioscia came for his starter.
Two batters later against reliever Blake Parker, Rosario scored on a sacrifice fly, a run the Twins later cherished in a 5-4 victory at Target Field, a game the Angels squandered with a series of minor missteps and bad beats.
Facing recently recalled right-hander Kyle Gibson, the Angels produced the game's first run in the second, when Yunel Escobar singled and Luis Valbuena doubled and fiercely flipped his bat. They nearly scored again when Nick Franklin shot a ball toward left, but shortstop Ehire Adrianza speared it.
The Twins tied the score in the bottom of the inning on Adrianza's sacrifice fly. With a man on and a 3-and-2 count to Byron Buxton, Ramirez hung a curveball, but he exhaled when Buxton took it for a called third strike.
The Twins struck again in the fifth. Buxton singled, stole second and scored on Robbie Grossman's double down the right-field line. Joe Mauer singled in Grossman, followed by a single from Miguel Sano. Pitching coach Charles Nagy visited the mound and Ramirez induced two groundouts, one a double play, to end the inning, and, presumably, his day.
Scioscia chose otherwise. After Ramirez exited, Parker allowed a solo shot to Buxton, who starred all afternoon. He began the game by leaping into the center-field fence to rob Cameron Maybin of a likely double.
The Angels repeatedly amassed baserunners in the game's later innings, including the first two batters of the ninth, but they never cemented a sufficient rally.
Half of their day's runs scored via solo shots. Kole Calhoun hit one in the sixth, and Abert Pujols another in the eighth. He clobbered a fastball from left-hander Taylor Rogers some 459 feet for his 603rd career homer and his longest since June 30, 2009, when he was still a St. Louis Cardinal in his prime.
Pujols, 37, had not homered since June 17.
"I think I got 602 before that one," Pujols said. "So I don't think about that."
In the seventh, surging left fielder Ben Revere worked his second walk of the afternoon, setting the stage for pinch-hitter Martin Maldonado, who struck out. For Revere, those two alone meant he has more walks in July than he had in April, May or June.
In the eighth, Maybin singled on the infield, then got picked off trying to steal second too early by Rogers, a call confirmed by review.
Maybin has 24 successful steals this season. He has been caught only three times. Oddly, the opposing pitcher was responsible for all three of those. A catcher has not thrown him out this year.
"If you look at it in a positive way," Maybin said, "the only way they get me is when I get myself. No catcher has been able to get me yet."
The Angels scored on a single, a walk, and an error in the ninth before Maldonado grounded into a game-ending double play.
"We just didn't do enough things to control enough situations to put ourselves in position to win," Scioscia said.
Losers of three straight for the first time since May, the Angels (43-45) fell 2 1/2 games back of a wild-card slot. In the four games they must play before Mike Trout can return from injury after the All-Star break, the season is on the verge of slipping out of the club's collective grasp.