Angels second baseman Luis Rengifo fielded Franmil Reyes’ second-inning grounder up the middle, stepped on the bag and fired to first base on Friday night.
If baseball required four outs to retire the side, it would have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, it was a harmless rookie mistake that brought a little levity to an eventual 7-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Progressive Field.
Rengifo could be forgiven for not knowing how many outs there were. Cleveland hits were ricocheting around the park and Indians runners were circling the bases at such a dizzying pace in the first two innings that it was hard to keep track.
Angels right-hander Taylor Cole, serving as an “opener,” was rocked for four runs and four hits in the first. Left-hander Dillon Peters, the “primary” pitcher, was tagged for two runs and four hits in the second and another run in the third, sending the Angels toward their sixth loss in eight games.
“Generally, the opener has worked pretty well for us,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “Every once in a while, it’s not going to work out the way you want. Today was that day.”
Mike Clevinger, the former Angels prospect who was traded to Cleveland for aging reliever Vinnie Pestano in 2014, allowed one run and three hits in 6 1/3 innings, striking out eight and walking four, to improve to 6-2 with a 3.07 ERA.
Peters recovered from his rocky start to blank the Indians on three hits over the final five innings. He allowed three earned runs and eight hits, struck out five and walked none in 7 2/3 innings.
“I don’t know,” Peters said, when asked if he’d ever thrown a quality “start” in relief. “Is that a thing?”
It was also the longest pitching appearance of the season for the Angels, topping Tyler Skaggs’ 7 1/3-inning start at Toronto on June 18.
“That was phenomenal,” Cole said of Peters. “He was one out away from a complete game. Think about that. He saved our bullpen big time. After that third inning, he got into a really good groove. It was a big, gutsy performance.”
The Angels went 12-8 and relievers had a 2.21 ERA in the first 20 games in which they used an opener, with Cole tossing six scoreless innings in his four starts, including two innings of a combined no-hitter against Seattle on July 12.
Cole, staked to a 1-0 lead when Mike Trout lined his American League-leading 36th homer to left field in the first, retired one of the six batters he faced Friday night.
Francisco Lindor led off with a walk. Oscar Mercado singled. Carlos Santana hit an RBI single to right. Yasiel Puig hit an RBI single to left. Jose Ramirez’s RBI double to right gave Cleveland a 3-1 lead before Reyes struck out.
Ausmus pulled Cole for Peters, who retired Jason Kipnis on a run-scoring grounder to first and Roberto Perez on a grounder to shortstop.
The Indians added two runs in the second when Lindor singled, Mercado doubled, Santana hit a sacrifice fly and Puig rolled an RBI grounder to right. Perez’s solo homer to right-center, his 19th, made it 7-1 in the third.
“I just didn’t get ahead of guys,” Cole said. “I fell behind everybody. It’s hard to pitch that way.”
Catching Cole and Peters was Max Stassi, who made his Angels debut after being acquired from Houston on Wednesday.
The shaky start notwithstanding, Stassi, a defensive whiz known for his game-calling and pitch-framing skills, believes he can have a positive impact on a young Angels pitching staff after working with the likes of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel in Houston.
“I was around some Hall of Fame-caliber pitchers over there,” Stassi, 28, said. “Those guys pushed me on a daily basis. I told them when I got traded, thanks for teaching me and for all their experience. It was special to learn from them. We’ve got some younger guys here that I feel I can help out.”
Stassi could also give the Angels an edge in their winter recruitment of Cole, the former Orange Lutheran High School and UCLA star who is expected to be the Angels’ primary target in free agency.
“I know G real well,” Stassi said. “When I was on a [recruiting] visit to UCLA, he was my host. We go way back. He’s worked his tail off, and he deserves everything he’s achieved.”
The hard-throwing Cole, who is 13-5 with a 2.87 ERA and an AL-leading 216 strikeouts, is also under contract with the Astros. Stassi was careful not to attract any possible tampering charges.
“I don’t know if I want to comment on that,” Stassi said, when asked if he planned to help recruit Cole. “I think about 29 other teams would love to have him on their staff. He’s a special talent.”