Angels get first taste of extra-inning fun but run into Matt Olson in bad-luck opener
Shohei Ohtani had little choice.
His Angels teammate Jared Walsh had smashed a ball to the right side of the infield in the 10th inning of the season opener Friday night. Ohtani had been placed on second base before the inning began, in accordance with rules adopted by Major League Baseball this season to speed up extra-inning games, and he knew he had to run on contact.
Unfortunately for him, the Oakland Athletics’ Gold Glove first baseman, Matt Olson, anticipated Ohtani’s move. When the ball scorched by Walsh reached him, Olson whipped a throw across the diamond to third baseman Matt Chapman. A rundown ensued.
Ohtani juked left and right but couldn’t escape. He returned empty-handed to the Angels’ dugout, one of the many times they failed to capitalize on an opportunity with runners in scoring position. In the bottom of the 10th, Olson hit a grand slam to deal them a 7-3 loss.
“I’ve instructed first basemen with good arms to do the same thing in the past,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said on a postgame videoconference, for which Ohtani was not available. “So that was more of a good play by Olson than a bad play by Ohtani.”
Poor luck followed the Angels around Friday. Free-agent acquisition Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup nursing a sore oblique muscle. Maddon said the injury was improving but didn’t anticipate Rendon making his Angels debut this weekend.
And poor performances by reliever Ty Buttrey, one of the Angels’ top late-inning relief options, in the eighth and closer Hansel Robles in the 10th doomed the Angels.
The 2020 season is the Angels’ 60th, and their pitching needs to improve for them to reach the postseason. They lost 7-3 in their opener Friday night.
Buttrey issued two walks and gave up two hits and two runs as the Athletics took a 3-2 lead. After preserving a tie provided by catcher Jason Castro’s solo home run in the ninth, Robles was erratic in the 10th. The Angels didn’t get a chance to turn a nifty play against the runner placed on second to start the inning. Robles (0-1) hit one batter and walked another. Upon exiting, he watched the A’s form a mosh pit at home plate to celebrate Olson’s walk-off grand slam off left-hander Hoby Milner.
Earlier, there were signs this wouldn’t be a traditional opening night. Planes didn’t fly overhead. The national anthem wasn’t performed live. Masking tape marked six feet of separation between players on the Oakland Coliseum’s dugout benches. Cutouts took the place of fans, who are barred from MLB games for the foreseeable future in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the night held meaning. For Maddon, the occasion marked his first official game at the helm of the team with which he spent the first 30 years of his professional career. For Keynan Middleton, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Brian Goodwin and Noé Ramirez, it was a chance to take a knee during the anthem as a protest against racial injustice.
Then there was Andrew Heaney, making the first opening day start of his Angels career, which has been hampered by injuries. Back stiffness crept up last week and nearly derailed him again.
In a near-empty stadium, Heaney pitched 4-2/3 innings on 67 pitches. He issued no walks, yielded only two hits and gave up one run on a towering homer by Ramon Laureano in the fourth inning. Heaney opened the game retiring 10 consecutive batters.
“They weren’t really on his fastball,” Maddon said. “It had that jump at the plate. I thought he was very good for his first time out.”
Heaney exited after striking out his sixth Oakland hitter and received a no-decision.
He did not receive enough support. The Angels’ formidable offense — even missing Rendon, the middle of the lineup is one of the most intimidating in the American League West — sputtered. All of their starters except Upton reached base, but they did little with the opportunities. Albert Pujols struck out to end the first inning, leaving the bases loaded. Ohtani did the same thing in the ninth. Simmons stranded three more runners in the 10th.
Eight AL teams can clinch postseason berths this year. The change, announced in the final hours before the first pitch of the season was thrown Thursday, gives teams on the margins of a division race a unique opportunity. The Angels are such a team, projected to finish third in the West but with higher aspirations. Their first step in the 60-game sprint fell just short.
“That’s like losing a three-game series,” Heaney said of Friday’s loss. “That’s what it feels like. I think you could see it just from the tone. I was in the clubhouse for those late innings. Everybody that was in there, it felt like the end of a season. It felt like everybody was treating it like any game late in the year. I think it does have that feel to it.
“I think guys understand how crucial each game is going to be.”
A look at key factors in the Angels’ opening loss at the Oakland on Friday:
1. SLUGGISH OFFENSE: An inning-opening error by Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman allowed Simmons to race to second in the seventh. He reached third and scored on a series of fly-ball outs, giving the Angels a 2-1 lead. Brian Goodwin drove in Pujols for the Angels’ first run on a sharp single to right in the fourth.
2. STAUNCH PITCHING: Heaney hardly wobbled in an efficient 4-2/3 innings. He struck out six and yielded two hits and one run. A towering Laureano blast into the empty left-field bleachers was Heaney’s lone mistake. He exited the first opening-day start of his career after 67 pitches.
3. MIA: Rendon swung his bat but not in a game setting. His sore oblique muscle is improving by the day. But don’t expect him to join the lineup soon. Rendon’s offense was missed but not his glove. Utility man David Fletcher, a Gold Glove candidate at third last season, started an inning-ending double play in the sixth to keep the score tied 1-1. Tommy La Stella secured the first out despite a hard slide into second base by Laureano.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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