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Angels come close but can’t dash Seattle’s playoff dreams

The AL Wild Card race will come down to Game 162

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

When the Red Sox emerged victorious against the Nationals earlier in the afternoon, the situation for the Angels today became clear: Win, and you take the division-rival Mariners into an early offseason with you and end their improbable run at the AL Wild Card one day early.

This gave the Halos a golden opportunity to play the role of spoiler once again and come out with yet another big win in a playoff-like environment, and for a brief moment, it looked as if they were going to accomplish exactly that. Alas, the bullpen could not hold like it did on Friday night, and the club was handed a tough 6-4 loss as a result.

Long before the dramatics that came during the late innings of Saturday’s game, things started just like many other contests that the Angels have played in this past month. They handed the ball to Jhonathan Díaz for just his third career big-league outing, and for a while, it looked as though he was ready to meet the moment. The Mariners got him in the third when Mitch Haniger went the other way on a pretty good pitch to drive in the first run of the game for either side, but other than that small hiccup, the rookie held his own through the first part of the game. It wasn’t without any trouble, such as the two on, one out jams in the first and the third, but Díaz managed to maneuver through them with a level of poise well beyond his years to limit the damage.

As has been the case more often than not recently, though, the lineup struggled out of the gates against Mariners starter Chris Flexen, managing just two hits in the first four innings of the game. Flexen had a stretch of just one run allowed in his last 14 innings against the Angels going into this game, and it looked as though he was set to continue his Halo-killing ways.

The fifth inning brought a spark, however, which came off the bat of José Rojas. With one out already in the books, the Anaheim native stepped up to the plate and lined a 1-1 changeup from Flexen over the right field wall for a solo shot, evening the score at one apiece and deflating the very energetic Seattle crowd.

Rojas’s longball gave Díaz some much-need run support, but the rookie’s magic wore off quickly when the bottom half of the inning rolled along. He retired the first batter of the frame easily enough, but a double in the gap from Ty France followed by a towering two-run blast on a hung changeup off the bat of Haniger put the Mariners up once again, this time by two. A hard-hit double by of Kyle Seager immediately following this spelled the end for Díaz, who finished his outing with three earned runs allowed in 4.1 innings pitched.

With how inconsistent the Angels’ offense has been for the last half of the season, a two-run deficit with the excellent Seattle bullpen looming looked to put the writing on the wall for the club in this one. They threatened in the sixth after they put runners on first and second with one out, but their failure to push any runs across in this situation along with a quiet seventh led many to believe that the game was ultimately over.

By the time the eighth inning rolled around, however, things took a turn for the dramatic. Brandon Marsh led things off impressively with a nine-pitch walk off of reliever Paul Sewald, which put the tying run at the plate in the form of Shohei Ohtani. Much like every other team this month has, though, the Mariners decided to pitch around the likely AL MVP, therefore walking him to put the go-ahead run at the plate still with nobody out. This looked like a good decision when Phil Gosselin subsequently struck out on four pitches for the first out of the inning, but Jared Walsh stepped up to the plate with other ideas. As he has so many other times this season, the Angels’ first baseman played the hero once again, ambushing a first-pitch fastball from Sewald and unleashing a mammoth three-run home run into right center field to give the Angels the lead and leaving the sold out Seattle crowd in stunned silence.

With just one swing of the bat, the script had taken perhaps the sharpest 180 possible. After struggling for so much of the game, the Angels were the ones suddenly in the drivers’ seat, left with just six outs to get to end the Mariners’ season and armed with one of best closers in baseball in Raisel Iglesias to secure the last three.

For the first three outs in the bottom half of the eighth, they decided to turn to Steve Cishek to face his former team once again, and it was immediately clear that he did not have his best command. He led off the inning by hitting Jarred Kelenic on a full-count pitch and then walking Jake Bauers, which put the tying run on base and woke up the Seattle faithful once again. A sacrifice bunt by Jake Fraley moved the runners to second and third and brought the top of the lineup to the plate with one out, which prompted Joe Maddon to walk J.P. Crawford to set up a potential double play. Cishek briefly looked like he was going to pull off the magic act after getting Ty France to bounce into a force play at home plate for the second out, but on yet another 3-2 pitch, Haniger again came though in the clutch with a line drive into left that brought home two and put the Mariners in front once again.

This was the fifth RBI of the game for Haniger, and it came with his team on the brink of elimination. Seager immediately followed this up with a base hit of his own off of new reliever Jimmy Herget to drive in another run, and the Angels found themselves back where they were to start the inning: Down two against the excellent Seattle bullpen.

The Halos tried their hardest to claw back into it in the ninth, but two well-struck balls from Luis Rengifo and Marsh found gloves, and the ballgame was over in heartbreaking fashion by a final of 6-4. The young Angels had their chances to overcome a hostile environment once again and eliminate their division rivals in a playoff-like atmosphere, but they will instead have to try again in their season finale tomorrow at 12 PM PST. They’ll send Reid Detmers to the mound in Game 162 for his first start in the majors since August 21, who will be opposite Seattle’s Tyler Anderson.