ARLINGTON, Texas — They came into town as hot as the Texas heat, the top hitting team in the American League and a winner of four in a row.
But the Angels ran into an even hotter team and lost a doubleheader to the Texas Rangers on Monday night, 8-5 and 3-2, at the Ballpark in Arlington in front of a crowd of 23,103.
Yet amid the rubble, the Angels hope they found a diamond.
John Lackey, a 23-year-old pitcher called up from the triple-A Salt Lake Stingers to start the second game, went seven innings in his major league debut, giving up three runs and six hits, striking out six and walking one.
Nothing seemed to faze Lackey. Not the fact that the Abilene, Texas, native was pitching in front of relatives and friends. Not the fact that he gave up a 433-foot home run to Alex Rodriguez in the first inning.
"I think I had a pretty good start," said Lackey, who was sent back to Salt Lake after the game, right-hander Matt Wise called up to fill his roster spot. "It's not my time, but hopefully it will come soon."
Angel Manager Mike Scioscia hopes his team's time to return to the win column will come even sooner.
"I don't even look at the standings," he said. "Our challenge is internal. Our club had a bad night, but we'll come back and win Tuesday. I know this group."
Ranger right-hander Dave Burba (4-4) got the victory in the nightcap, Texas' seventh in a row, with reliever Hideki Irabu picking up his 14th save by getting David Eckstein to bounce out to the mound with the tying run on third in the ninth inning.
Joaquin Benoit (2-0) beat Aaron Sele (6-5) in the opener.
Darin Erstad continued his hot hitting by going five for nine in the doubleheader with two home runs and three RBIs in the opener.
The way the first game began, it appeared the Rangers would be the ones facing a long evening.
The Angels looked as if they were still in Milwaukee, teeing off on every poor soul who took the mound. After scoring 24 runs in sweeping the Brewers over the weekend, the Angels scored three runs in the first two innings Monday. A first-inning run came across when Ranger first baseman Mike Lamb's throw to the plate on a chopper with the bases loaded was high, allowing Erstad to score.
Erstad, who had eight hits and seven runs batted in in the Brewer series, also started off as if he were still in Miller Park. After his first-inning single, he hit the first of his two home runs, driving in Jorge Fabregas ahead of him in the second inning.
That gave the Angels a 3-0 lead against Benoit, a 24-year-old making only his third major league start. Benoit threw 35 pitches in the first inning, 52 after two. With 88-degree heat, high humidity and the league's best-hitting team in front of him, his chances for success seemed as dark as the stormy sky above him.
But ultimately, it was his Angel counterpart, Sele, not Benoit, who withered.
Sele lasted only 4 1/3 innings, giving up nine hits and five runs, his ERA ballooning to 5.54, while Benoit, surrendering only two earned runs and five hits in five innings, his ERA improving to 3.00.
"We haven't seen the best of Aaron Sele yet," said Angel Manager Mike Scioscia. "Hopefully his consistency will come around."
Sele certainly didn't dispute Scioscia's assessment.
"I fell behind more than half the hitters I faced," he said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that is not the right way to pitch."
It also doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that shaky pitching and shaky defense are a bad mix. For a while, the Angels' defense had been flawless. When Troy Glaus made an error Saturday in Milwaukee, it ended a streak of 98 innings over eleven games plus of errorless ball for the Angels.
But with the bases loaded for the Rangers in the sixth inning and Texas leading, 5-3, Herbert Perry's ground ball went under the glove of Eckstein, the Angel shortstop, allowed two crucial runs to score.
Perry, the Texas third baseman, also had three hits in the game and drove in a pair of runs. Designated hitter Rafael Palmeiro and second baseman Michael Young had two RBIs each.
Even with their two victories, the Rangers, last in the AL West, still trail the division-leading Seattle Mariners by 12 games. The view from where the Angels sit is a lot better. With the Mariners losing Monday, the Angels dropped only half a game, leaving them 2 1/2 back.