It’s beginning to look like April in Angel Stadium, where the home team picked the wrong time to reprise its role as the Big Engine That Couldn’t.
A once-prolific offense is no longer pressuring opponents early, leaving starting pitchers with no margin for error. There have been costly errors, some questionable baserunning and a noticeable lack of clutch hits, all hallmarks of an Angels club that was a dismal 8-15 in that first month of the season.
The Oakland Athletics took advantage again Wednesday night with a 4-1 victory, their third in a crucial four-game series that concludes Thursday and their 21st win in 26 games.
The Angels, with their $159-million payroll, star-studded roster and World Series expectations, trail the A’s, with their $54-million payroll, no-name roster and no expectations, by 51/2 games in the American League wild-card race.
They trail Baltimore and New York by 31/2 games for the second wild-card spot with 19 games left, their hopes of ending their two-year playoff drought fading.
Ervin Santana gave up only two runs — one earned — and four hits in six innings, but the Angels couldn’t solve A.J. Griffin, the third rookie starter to beat them in the series.
Griffin gave up six hits in eight scoreless innings, struck out six and didn’t walk anyone to improve to 6-0 and lower his earned-run average to 1.94.
The Angels avoided their first shutout since Aug. 16 when Albert Pujols led off the ninth inning with his 30th home run, to left field, against Sean Doolittle.
Pujols became the first major league player to hit 30 home runs in his first 12 seasons, and his 475th home run tied him with Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 28th all-time.
But in three games against the A’s, the Angels, who since June 1 lead the majors in batting, on-base percentage, runs and slugging, scored a total of three runs in the first six innings.
Oakland’s first-inning run Wednesday night was unearned, as Josh Reddick doubled to right field with two outs and scored when shortstop Erick Aybar tried to backhand a Yoenis Cespedes grounder and the ball kicked off his glove for an error.
The Angels ran themselves out of a potential rally in the third inning when Chris Iannetta reached on a one-out infield single and was thrown out trying to advance on Mike Trout’s single to center fielder Coco Crisp, who made a one-hop throw to third base.
Then came the dreaded first-and-third, one-out situation in the fourth, as Kendrys Morales reached on an infield single and took third on Howie Kendrick’s single.
But in what seemed like a repeat of Tuesday night, when the Angels twice failed to capitalize with runners on first and third and no outs, Aybar popped out to second, and Vernon Wells flied to left to end the inning.
Crisp made a spectacular diving catch in the right-center field gap to rob Iannetta of a double in the fifth.
Cespedes led off the sixth with a home run for a 2-0 lead, the AL-high 35th home run served up by Santana, and the A’s scored twice in the eighth against Jason Isringhausen.