Angels backup catcher Kevan Smith looked up at the dusky sky from Globe Life Park on Monday evening and honed his gaze on the baseball that had been lofted into the air.
It plummeted toward a spot in foul territory where Smith, who was trying to stay near home plate in case a Texas Rangers runner at third base attempted to score, would have been able to trap it. The only problem was Smith had no idea it was going to land so close to him.
To Smith, the ball hit by the Rangers’ Nomar Mazara appeared to drift toward first base. But the wind was blowing at nearly 20 mph, changing the course of the ball. Angels first baseman Albert Pujols charged toward home plate but didn’t make it in time. The ball fell to the grass untouched.
Later, manager Brad Ausmus described the play as a moment where the ball blended “in with the clouds.”
Although the play might not have changed the outcome in the Angels’ eventual 12-7 loss — Mazara would later ground out — it captured the moment.
“That represented how this game went,” Smith said.
There were a few things the Angels had going for them Monday. Starter Trevor Cahill was on the mound; he had pitched six innings in each of his previous three starts. Mike Trout returned to the lineup; he’d missed three games because of a groin strain. The bullpen had a 2.08 earned-run average; it was the second-best mark in the major leagues.
None of it mattered.
Trout was neutralized by Rangers starter Shelby Miller and Texas’ bullpen. Issued a free pass three times, Trout is now tied for the major league lead with 16 walks in 13 games this season. He scored twice and ran well, but he couldn’t change a contest determined by the Angels’ pitching performance.
Cahill allowed four runs in four innings. He surrendered a home run to Gallo, who’s homered in each of the four games he’s played against the Angels this season. The moonshot traveled at a speed of 115.1 mph, the fourth-hardest-hit homer in the majors this season. Shin-Soo Choo also greeted Cahill with a leadoff homer on a first-pitch curveball in the third inning.
“I imagine to him it didn’t look like he wasn’t as sharp as he had been in his previous outings,” Ausmus said of the only starter in the Angels rotation who had logged more than 15 innings and accrued an ERA under 4.00. “But he always battles, so I don’t expect it to be any issue going forward. I think it was just a night where he was kind of rusty.”
Cahill has given up five home runs in 21 innings this season. He allowed eight in 110 innings last season. The veteran attributed it to bad luck. Cahill has been more aggressive this season, filling the strike zone at a rate 12% higher than he did a season ago. He’s thrown more first-pitch strikes this season than he ever has in his career; but he’s also not expanded the zone to trick batters into chasing pitches. The homers aren’t collateral damage of his approach, he said, but instead more a tribute to hitters.
“A lot of it is just me trying to be cognizant of my walks and not walking people,” Cahill said.
“[Maybe] start expanding a little bit, even if I’m behind in the count, see if they’ll chase. I don’t know. .... It was just one of those things where they’re not fishing at anything. Next thing you know, you don’t want to walk anybody so you bring one back over [the plate] and you didn’t try to expand again. But that’s how it is.”
Reliever Cam Bedrosian, who had not allowed a run in five of six outings before Monday, replaced Cahill in the fifth inning. It took him 23 pitches to record his first out. Five of the seven batters he faced reached base. He gave up four hard hits, issued a walk and was saddled with the loss after allowing four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
One of the runs scored when Gallo, who had gone hitless in 16 at-bats entering this game, ripped a solo shot to right field. Outfielder Kole Calhoun rocketed a throw to Smith, but the ball bounced along the line before skittering past Smith. Calhoun was charged an error when another run scored.
“It just kind of piled on,” Bedrosian said. “It’s frustrating.”
A few things went right for the Angels.
Brian Goodwin hit his second home run of the season, ta two-run rocket launched into the seats just right of the center field berm. It gave Cahill a 3-0 cushion before he threw a pitch.
Kole Calhoun went 3 for 5 and knocked a two-run homer in the eighth inning, his third blast of the season. He launched Rangers reliever Kyle Bird’s fastball 422 feet for his first hit against a left-handed pitcher this season. He had been 0 for 14 with two walks before the baseball was dumped into the right-field stands.
Pujols even made a couple of nice plays at first base, including his spinning grab of Choo’s hard-hit groundball that ended the fifth inning.
“Yeah, he swung the bat well, too,” said Ausmus. “Had the sac fly that he hit hard, hit the ball to the wall in center field and he made a couple of nice plays defensively.”