Fresh off of a road trip that saw them take two of three games from a future playoff team in the White Sox, the Angels had a chance to open their last homestand of the year by playing spoiler against an Oakland Athletics team trying to hold onto playoff aspirations of their own. For a while, it looked like they were going to do exactly that, but a number of different costly mistakes led to them dropping a very winnable game by the final of 5-4.
The Halos turned to Jhonathan Diaz to start Friday’s game after Shohei Ohtani was scratched from his scheduled outing yesterday, and the rookie struggled with his command in his major league debut. Diaz’s first inning in the bigs saw him hit one batter and walk two more to load the bases with just one out, but a pair of strikeouts helped him wiggle his way out of trouble.
Diaz gets out of his early jam with another nice slider for the K pic.twitter.com/d8jzOeU9XT— Halos Heaven (@halosheaven) September 18, 2021
This did not help the youngster find his command, however, as his second inning of work saw him walk two more hitters after allowing a leadoff base hit to load the bases once again, this time with no outs. Unlike the prior frame, the A’s were able to capitalize, with Josh Harrison singling home the game’s first run to give Oakland an early lead. Matt Olson followed that up two batters later with a sacrifice fly to give the A’s a 2-0 lead, at which point Joe Maddon came out with the hook for Diaz. The rookie finished his debut with just five outs recorded, surrendering the two runs while walking four and hitting one. Diaz allowed just a pair of base hits that weren’t particularly hard hit, but the free passes came back to bite him in the end, something that would become a theme for the rest of the Angels pitchers on the day.
The Halo bats managed to pick up Diaz in the bottom half of the inning, though, jumping right back into the game against A’s starter Cole Irvin. After Irvin worked out of a jam of his own in the bottom of the first, Kurt Suzuki greeted him in the 2nd with a leadoff home run into the Oakland bullpen to get the team on the board.
From here, the Angels fully leaned in the 1985-style small ball approach that Maddon has expressed an affinity for all season. After Luis Rengifo reached on an error and Jack Mayfield singled him to third, Juan Lagares stepped up to the plate and executed a very nice safety squeeze bunt that Irvin couldn’t handle, bringing home Rengifo and tying the game at 2.
Brandon Marsh followed this up with a bunt of his own that advanced Mayfield and Lagares into scoring position, and David Fletcher took advantage by dumping a base hit into left field in typical David Fletcher fashion, driving in both runners and giving the Angels a 4-2 lead.
The Halo bullpen suddenly had a two-run cushion to work with at this point, and they proceeded to tempt fate a number of different times. Kyle Tyler, who came on in relief of Diaz in the second, allowed Oakland to load the bases for the third straight inning after two singles and another walk, but he escaped with only a lone run allowed on a sac fly by Harrison that cut the lead to 4-3. In the fifth, two more walks by Tyler and Jose Quijada along with another single gave the A’s yet another chance with the bases loaded, but the Angels again managed to come away unscathed after Quijada got Harrison to ground into a double play that was nicely turned by Rengifo and Fletcher.
The bullpen did a good job of bending but not breaking for much of this one, but the copious amounts of traffic on the basepaths finally caught up to them in the 6th, albeit in a different kind of way. A one-out base hit by Olson brought Jose Marte on in relief of Quijada for his first appearance since August 20 after a stint on the COVID IL, and it was clear from the jump that he did not have good chemistry with his catcher Suzuki at all. Marte walked Mark Canha to put runners on first and second with one out, and a passed ball by Suzuki allowed both Canha and Olson to advance into scoring position. This put Seth Brown in a prime spot to tie things back up at 4, and he did so with a groundball that brought Olson home and moved Canha to third. Matt Chapman came up next with the go-ahead run 90 feet away, and another passed ball by Suzuki on a 3-0 pitch brought that run home and gave the A’s the lead once again.
These mistakes by Suzuki turned out to be critical, as they forced an Angels lineup that had gone cold after their four-run second inning to play catch up once again. Perhaps their best chance to even things back up came with two outs in the eighth, when Suzuki singled to put the tying run on base. Rengifo followed this up by dumping a base hit in front of Starling Marte in center field, but pinch runner Kean Wong was gunned down at third base by a beautiful throw from Marte. This decision to try to advance to third with two outs by Wong was a very questionable one, and it ended the Halos’ rally before it even got off the ground.
They had another opportunity in the final frame after pinch hitter Jose Rojas reached with one out, and for a second, it looked like Marsh was going to play the hero once again. The rookie smoked a ball into center field that had an expected batting average of .500, but Marte managed to track it down nicely for the second out. Fletcher flew out weakly to Canha one batter later, and the game was over at a final of 5-4.
The Angels had their chance to come away with a victory in this one, but between the whopping nine walks that their pitchers allowed, the defensive miscues that gave Oakland some prime real estate on the bases, and the missed opportunities of their own at the plate, they shot themselves in the foot one too many times. They’ll try to redeem themselves tomorrow evening at 6:07 PM PST when they send the red-hot Jose Suarez to the mound opposite rookie Daulton Jeffries.