The Angels' pennant hopes were dealt a serious blow Wednesday night when Garrett Richards, their best pitcher this season, suffered a patellar injury to his left knee during an 8-3 win over the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.
With runners on first and second and one out in the second inning, Brock Holt hit a grounder to first baseman Albert Pujols, who spun and fired to second for a force out.
Richards sprinted from the mound toward first to receive a relay from shortstop Erick Aybar, but as he approached the bag, he caught his right cleat in the dirt, and his knee buckled.
Richards crumpled to the ground, where he remained for about eight minutes while athletic trainers worked to mobilize his leg. The entire Angels team circled around the right hander as he was placed on a stretcher and carted off the field.
Doctors won't know the full extent of the injury until Richards is further examined. Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said after the game that Richards will be reevaluated Thursday.
Richards entered Wednesday night's game with a 13-4 record, 2.53 earned-run average, 164 strikeouts and 50 walks in 167 innings. He had a 1.79 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 14 starts since June 4 and had held opponents to a .195 average on the season, tied with Felix Hernandez for the lowest mark in the American League.
Richards, 26, gave up a run and three hits in the first inning, and he gave up another run on two hits in the second, a rare rocky start for him.
But his fastball was hitting 99 mph on the Fenway Park radar gun, and he has used that pitch, with a devastating curve and slider, to become one of baseball's best pitchers in his first full season as a starter.
The Angels, who have the best record in baseball, already had virtually no margin for injury in their rotation after losing left-hander Tyler Skaggs, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery on Aug. 13.
Their best options at triple-A Salt Lake are left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who is 10-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 21 starts, left-hander Randy Wolf, who is 5-2 with a 4.68 ERA in 11 starts or right-hander Chris Volstad, who is 2-1 with a 5.45 ERA.
Another potential option is double-A left-hander Michael Roth, who is 10-6 with a 2.82 ERA at Arkansas and pitched well in a mop-up role Aug. 2 in Tampa Bay, when he saved the Angels bullpen by throwing 4 2/3 solid innings in a 10-3 loss.