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Angels slip into thin air, lose, 6-1

They fall for fourth time in their last five games as A's starter Smith clamps down on struggling offense, pitching a four-hitter.

July 01, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

The Angels elevated the lazy fly ball to an art form Monday night, sending 19 baseballs skyward, none struck with any kind of authority, and watching them fall harmlessly into the gloves of Oakland defenders.

Not only did a struggling offense produce little in a 6-1 loss to the Athletics and left-hander Greg Smith, the Angels hit only a handful of balls hard, their lone highlight Mike Napoli's solo home run to left-center field in the fifth inning.

Smith (5-6) scattered four hits over nine innings, sending the Angels to their fourth loss in five games and trimming their American League West lead over the A's to 3 1/2 games.

The Angels, who were shut out twice by the Dodgers over the weekend, have scored two runs in their last 37 innings and have been held to five runs or less in 31 of the last 38 games.

"Right now, we [stink]," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "And it is a domino effect. Trust me, we care. We're trying. We're going to get it right. I promise. This [stinks]."

Though Manager Mike Scioscia said the Angels "didn't swing at too many first pitches outside the zone," it was hard to tell by the results.

After Erick Aybar walked with one out in the first, Vladimir Guerrero and Hunter sent weak fly balls to right, both on first-pitch swings.

Ditto for the sixth -- Aybar led off with a single, but Guerrero popped to second on the first pitch, and Hunter flied to center on the first pitch. Juan Rivera popped to short and Casey Kotchman flied to right on first-pitch swings in the fifth.

"There's one way out of this -- you have to keep a good attitude and come to the park ready to play," Scioscia said. "There are no shortcuts. As a team, we have a lot of confidence in the offense, and eventually it's going to turn.

"This is a rough spot; no one is taking it lightly. No one has his head buried in the sand. Right now, we're not squaring the ball up like we need to, but they're too good to be down for this long."

The Angels were 15-4 against left-handed starters, but outside of Napoli's 12th homer of the season, they failed to measure Smith, who lost a 2-0 complete game in Anaheim on April 29.

"They were in between on my pitches," Smith said. "They were early on the changeup, late on the fastball. I was just mixing it up."

No surprise there.

"Smith didn't do anything we didn't expect," Scioscia said. "He relies on location and changing speeds. For some reason, we didn't get many good looks at him. Give him credit. We're a little soft in our lineup as far as production, but he pitched a heck of a game."

The Angels were still within striking distance, trailing, 2-1, in the seventh, but after starter Jon Garland gave up a leadoff infield single to Ryan Sweeney, the game slipped through the Angels' fingers, almost literally.

Kurt Suzuki drove a fly to deep left field, where Rivera, making only his sixth start of the season in the outfield, got to the warning track in time to make the catch.

But Rivera took his eye off the ball at the last second, and the ball nicked off his glove for a two-base error, putting runners on second and third.

Scioscia replaced Garland with left-hander Darren Oliver, who got Jack Cust to ground out, but Eric Chavez grounded a two-run single to right for a 4-1 lead. Oakland added insurance runs in the eighth and ninth innings.

Garland gave up two runs in the second, as Bobby Crosby doubled, Carlos Gonzalez singled, Mark Ellis hit a run-scoring groundout and Daric Barton an RBI single.

"Every game is big," Garland said. "We play these guys five more times before the All-Star break. We have a chance to bury them, but we have to come out and play good ball."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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