Tampa Bay right fielder Steven Souza opened the ninth inning of a tie game against the Angels Saturday night with a routine ground ball to second, but no one was home.
Second baseman Johnny Giavotella was stationed behind the second-base bag as part of an infield shift, a strategy the Angels have employed more than all but three other teams in baseball this season.
Souza’s grounder rolled to right field for a single, igniting a two-run rally off Angels closer Joe Smith that lifted the Rays to a 4-2 victory in Angel Stadium.
Some pitchers voice their displeasure with such shifts, and some express their objections with body language that makes it clear they’d rather have defenders playing straight up. Asked what he thought of Souza’s shift-aided single, Smith paused for a long time before answering diplomatically.
“I mean, it is what it is,” Smith said. “We’ve done it a lot of it this year, and it’s worked in our favor sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t work in your favor. When it works, you’re the happiest guy in the world that some guy is playing in a different position, and when it doesn’t work, you’re not happy about it. You have to take the good with the bad in those situations and get outs.”
The Angels gave away two outs Saturday night, and both were costly. The first came in the sixth inning, when first baseman C.J. Cron ranged far to his right for Corey Dickerson’s one-out grounder and threw high to Jered Weaver covering first base for an error. Souza followed with a two-run homer to tie the score, 2-2.
“What a call on a 2-1 pitchout,” Rays Manager Kevin Cash said of Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. “I don’t know that I would do that, but man, it worked. I’m saying that as a compliment. It shocked all of us.”
So did what happened next. Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, considered the best defensive player in baseball at any position, chased Souza back toward first, but his throw hit Souza in the right shoulder and ricocheted into foul territory, an error that allowed Souza to take second.
“We got lucky that the guy threw the ball right into his back, and he advances,” Cash said.
It might not have been all luck. Replays showed that Souza veered to his right with one hard step as he headed back toward first, not enough to take him out of the baseline but enough to distract Simmons.
Asked if he was thrown off by the step, Simmons said, “Yeah, yeah … he did some smart baserunning right there, and I didn’t throw the ball high enough. He got what he was looking for, and it worked out for him.”
Cron fielded Desmond Jennings’ bunt, spun and threw to third for an out. Kevin Kiermaier grounded into a fielder’s choice for the second out, and Curt Casali walked to load the bases. Forsythe then dumped his single into left field to snap a 2-2 tie.
“That was a cluster of an inning,” Smith said. “I lost the inning when I walked the catcher [Casali]. You can’t walk a guy there, not a right-handed hitter, especially. That killed me. It killed us.”
The Angels have lost six of eight games. They lost their best pitcher, Garrett Richards, to a major elbow injury on Friday, their offense has produced four runs in two losses to Tampa Bay, and Saturday night, the defense broke down.
“Our guys need to exhale a little bit,” Scioscia said. “When the end result is not what you want, you have to refocus on the process, and our guys will. They’re fighting hard for every out, they’re fighting hard to win every situation. We haven’t gotten that key hit to fall in, made that key pitch when we need to.
“We have to control what we can control, and we didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t play the type of defense we need to play. A couple of balls we need to convert into outs, we didn’t, and that impacts the outcome of the game.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna