The baseball came in from right field like a javelin, piercing the Tropicana Field air Sunday afternoon at a speed of 94 mph. It arrived cleanly in the mitt of leaping Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy dropped a tag on the outstretched leg of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Austin Meadows, who had taken off from third base on a fly ball.
Rookie pitcher Griffin Canning, watching the play unfold from the grass behind home plate, pumped his fist on his way back to the mound. Out in right field, Brian Goodwin lifted his right arm and mimed dusting it off with his glove.
Goodwin’s throw home in the third inning kept the Angels close against a team that entered the game a half game out of first place in the American League East.
“That was a leadoff triple [from Meadows] right there with nobody out,” Lucroy said. “It went from no outs with a runner on third to two outs real quick. It was a huge play for us.”
But in a 6-5 loss to the Rays, the play became a side note. So did Mike Trout’s ninth-inning, two-run home run and David Fletcher’s two-RBI performance.
Canning drew 16 swings and misses and received 18 strike calls during his 93-pitch effort.
But the Rays took advantage the few times he missed spots. Rookie Brandon Lowe was the first, cranking a tying solo shot to left field in first inning. Kevin Kiermaier hit an RBI double. Tommy Pham turned a high-and-tight fastball into a missile that landed in the seats for a go-ahead home run in the fifth.
Canning, now nine starts into his major league career, struck out seven batters but gave up six hits and four runs in six innings.
“When things went wrong, I was behind in the count,” Canning said. “In the first inning I was 3-0 to Lowe and just trying to get a strike in there and he made me pay. Overall I felt really good. I had really good stuff. Just a couple bad pitches here and there and they made me pay.”
The Rays tacked on a run when Angels reliever Taylor Cole threw a wild pitch and another on a single to right field in the eighth inning.
In the aftermath of another one-run loss, the Angels could take solace in splitting a four-game series with one of the best teams in the American League.
“They’re a good team,” said Lucroy. “I thought they battled really well and so did we. We could have easily taken three out of four but we didn’t. We just right the ship. We split with these guys, which I think is pretty good considering how good they are, then go into Toronto and get it going again.”
The Angels flirted with a .500 record twice during the four-game series. On both occasions, they drew close to victory — the bullpen blew a 4-0 lead Friday night and Trout made Sunday’s game a one-run affair — and landed short.
With the Houston Astros running roughshod all over the American League and holding a nearly 10-game lead in the West, all that is within the Angels’ grasp is one of the two AL wild-card spots. But their inability to even their record has kept them just outside of that race, too. They trail the second-place Texas Rangers by 3 1/2 games.
“I think they are trying to win the game at hand and they aren’t really concerned about their record at the time they’re playing,” Ausmus said. “I’ve said it before, . 500 is not a goal. It’s hopefully a stopover to a much better record.”