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Angels again are done in by base relief in loss to Rays

August 20, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was another page-turner for the Angels on Tuesday night, and if you have a good read on this team, you know there was no happy ending.

When Manager Mike Scioscia says, "We've got to turn the page on this one," and reliever Scot Shields says, "You have to turn the page and come back tomorrow," you can bet some kind of calamity just occurred.

Suffering their third bullpen meltdown in six games, the Angels gave up three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, which featured one hit, three walks and a critical error, and lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2, in Tropicana Field.

Willy Aybar, brother of Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, snapped a 2-2 tie with a two-out, two-run single off Darren Oliver to give the Rays their fifth victory in five games against the Angels at home this season.

Tampa Bay (77-48) also moved ahead of the Angels (76-48) for the best record in the American League, and if the Rays, who have the best home record (47-17) in baseball, can maintain that edge, they could have a decided dome-field advantage in the playoffs.

"They've gotten the better of us here, but we know from our experience that October is a whole new ballgame," said Shields, who walked two in the eighth to breathe life into the Rays.

"Trust me, if we face these guys down the road, us losing the first five games here is not going to enter our minds. This team will rise to the challenge."

It wilted under pressure Tuesday night.

Starter Ervin Santana threw seven superb innings, allowing one run and four hits and striking out nine, and Garret Anderson helped preserve a 2-1 lead in the seventh, fielding Aybar's leadoff hit in the left-field corner, spinning and firing to second baseman Howie Kendrick to cut down Aybar.

But Shields lost his release point and, by his own admission, "couldn't get the ball anywhere near the strike zone" in the eighth.

The right-hander walked Gabe Gross on four pitches to start the inning. Jason Bartlett dropped a bunt toward third, but catcher Jeff Mathis' off-balance throw sailed past first for an error, putting runners on second and third.

"Matty is one of the best I've seen at making that play," Shields said. "I guess my release point threw off his release point."

Shields walked Akinori Iwamura to load the bases but struck out B.J. Upton looking for the first out. Scioscia summoned Oliver, who got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in Cleveland on Saturday, but the left-hander couldn't find the escape hatch this time.

Carlos Pena walked on a full-count breaking ball to force in the tying run, and after Cliff Floyd struck out, Aybar stroked his game-winner into left.

"That one inning got away from us," Scioscia said. "We set the table for them and cracked the door open further with the error."

A lot of innings have been getting away from the highly touted Angels bullpen lately, which could be a cause for concern.

The Angels have lost five of their last six games, and relievers have suffered four of the losses. They also have five blown saves in six games, two by Jose Arredondo, two by Shields and one by closer Francisco Rodriguez.

The offense has struggled on this trip to Cleveland and Tampa Bay, scoring 15 runs in five games, and they made the least of nine hits Tuesday night.

After Vladimir Guerrero led off the second with a home run, the Angels had three more singles in the inning, but Upton, the Rays center fielder, fielded Juan Rivera's hit and gunned down Torii Hunter with a perfect throw to the plate.

Guerrero doubled to lead off the fourth and scored on Anderson's double, which extended Anderson's hit streak to 22 games.

The Angels were blanked the rest of the way, giving the bullpen little margin for error, but if the Angels are to win the World Series, they're going to have to hold one-run leads against good teams.

"We have some pretty good arms down there," Shields said. "Hitters go through slumps, and we've hit a little bump here. Everyone seems to bounce back pretty quickly, and I'm looking forward to doing that [today]."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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