The Angels invested $317.5 million in first baseman Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson last December, fully expecting the free agents to push them deep into October, but all the pricey pair did Wednesday night was push the Angels closer to playoff elimination.
Wilson, in the biggest start of his Angels career to date, came up Lilliputian small, failing to make it out of the third inning against the Texas Rangers and burying the Angels in a three-run hole out of which they couldn’t climb.
Pujols had two hits, but a pair of mental mistakes, one on the bases and one on defense, were costly in a 6-2 loss that dropped the Angels 71/2 games behind Texas in the American League West and 31/2 games behind Oakland for the second wild-card spot with 13 games to play.
“That,” Angels left fielder Vernon Wells said, “was just an ugly game.”
The Rangers played without Josh Hamilton (vision problems) and Adrian Beltre (intestinal issues), but instead of attacking a weakened lineup, Wilson looked tentative.
The left-hander walked the bases loaded in a 27-pitch first inning, escaping the jam when Mike Napoli grounded out, but he gave up a single to Ian Kinsler, a run-scoring triple to Elvis Andrus, an RBI double to Michael Young and an RBI double to Napoli before being yanked in the third.
“I’ve been my own worst enemy the last few months,” said Wilson (12-10). “I wasn’t happy to get pulled, but I wasn’t doing well, either, so it’s my own fault.”
Jerome Williams gave the Angels a chance to come back with 41/3 shutout, one-hit innings, and Alberto Callaspo followed Howie Kendrick’s fifth-inning double with a two-run homer off Derek Holland to pull the Angels to within 3-2.
But Pujols got too frisky on the bases in the sixth after lining a single to center field that Craig Gentry cut off. Pujols, doing his best — or would that be worst? — Vladimir Guerrero impersonation, made a horrible decision to try for a double, and he was thrown out by a good 15 feet, the second time in two games he has been thrown out trying to stretch.
The mistake stung more when Torii Hunter followed with a ground-rule double to left-center, and Kendrick struck out to end the inning.
“The play is in front of him,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “There’s no doubt getting to second there would have been big, but Gentry showed some real range and made a nice play. We trust Albert’s instincts, he trusts his instincts, and it just didn’t work out tonight.”
Pujols made another aggressive but ill-advised decision in the eighth, ranging far to his right, diving and smothering a Young grounder that would have been a routine play for Kendrick at second.
Young beat pitcher Garrett Richards to the bag for a single and scored on Nelson Cruz’s double for a 4-2 lead. Geovany Soto’s two-run homer off reliever Jordan Walden made it 6-2.
“Garrett broke late to the bag; that’s what caused it,” Scioscia said in what seemed like an attempt to protect Pujols. “It’s right-side defense. That ball is hit, the pitcher has to break over assuming he has to cover first.”