For four games to start the season, the Angels bullpen seemed untouchable. It allowed a few baserunners, sure, but none of them ever crossed the plate.
Then they arrived at T-Mobile Park, where last June the Angels saw a promising season derailed by injuries to Garrett Richards and Zack Cozart. And for the second game in a row, a home run allowed by a reliever sunk the Angels, who on Tuesday night lost 2-1 to the Seattle Mariners.
But to pin this loss squarely on one pitch allowed by right-hander Luis Garcia would take the blame away from the main culprit of the Angels’ woes: The team has batted a paltry .178 and scored only 13 runs in six games. It has not been able to generate a rhythm on offense.
That cost them in the ninth inning, when catcher Jonathan Lucroy narrowly missed beating out a two-out ground ball that rolled up the right side of the infield. Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon gloved the baseball on the cut between the grass and dirt, transferred it to his throwing hand and on the run executed a side-arm throw that beat Lucroy to the bag by mere inches.
The bang-bang play left Mike Trout standing near home plate, unable to safely score a run despite being in perfect position to do so after reaching third base on Andrelton Simmons’ one-out single.
“It’s frustrating,” said Lucroy, the only Angels player to get two hits on Tuesday. “Baseball’s a game of millimeters. If you’re a millimeter off, it’s the difference between a homer and a flyout. That’s just the way the game is, and it’s a very difficult game, very hard game.”
For most of five innings in this series finale that sent the Angels home for their Anaheim opener with a 1-5 record, the Angels held just their second lead of the young season. It came courtesy of Lucroy, right fielder Kole Calhoun and designated hitter Kevan Smith. Lucroy doubled to lead off the second inning and made his way home when Calhoun and Smith grounded out on subsequent plays.
That was all the damage the Angels could do off Mariners starter Marco Gonzales, who held the Angels to four hits and one walk over 8 1/3 innings. Throwing mostly high-70s changeups and mid-80s sinkers, Gonzales struck out three batters. He received an astonishing 26 called strikes on pitches that weren’t overpowering but were effective at keeping the Angels off-balance.
His biggest spot of trouble came in that second inning. At one point he retired 17 in a row. He was removed from the game when he reached the 100-pitch mark on Simmons’ one-out single in the ninth inning, which allowed Trout, who had drawn a walk, to advance to third base. He retired 22 of the last 25 batters he faced.
Mariners reliever Anthony Swarzak followed Gonzales’ lead. After beginning the at-bat with two high fastballs, he struck out Albert Pujols on three straight sliders. Swarzak then got Lucroy to ground out on a low-and-away slider to end the game.
The offensive futility erased a nearly pristine start by right-hander Trevor Cahill, who was sharp over six innings of work. He scattered three hits — two were doubles, in the sixth inning — and allowed one run. Mitch Haniger hit an RBI double in the sixth inning to tie the score 1-1 and removed Cahill from the decision.
Then came the eighth inning. Garcia, a 32-year-old veteran of seven major league seasons who was acquired for his ability to throw a hard fastball, left a 97-mph heater out over the plate for Mariners designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach with one out. The left-handed hitter reached for it, barreled the pitch and sent the baseball soaring 406 feet in an arc over the fence in left-center field to break the 1-1 tie.
“We were trying to go up there and it sunk down and away,” Lucroy said. “Look, you hit a ball like that down and away [to] left-center, that’s a pretty good swing.”
The Angels, who didn’t get anything else going until the ninth inning, fell to 1-5 on the season for the first time since 1961, the team’s inaugural year. After a day off on Wednesday, they’ll return to Angel Stadium to face the Texas Rangers on Thursday.
“I think our bats need some rest,” Ausmus said, “to be fresh for the opener on Thursday.”