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Angels run into trouble

Rangers cut AL West lead to a half-game on Hank Blalock's walk-off homer, his second of the game.

July 02, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Maybe it was the oppressive 98-degree heat in the Ballpark at Arlington, but the Angels seemed dazed and disoriented for much of Wednesday evening, piling one baserunning blunder on top of another in a performance that seemed as out of character for them as John Wayne playing the villain in an old western.

But their most egregious error they saved for last, a decision by Manager Mike Scioscia to have reliever Justin Speier pitch to Hank Blalock with a runner on second base and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the score tied.

With first base open and Julio Borbon, who has one hit in five big league at-bats, on deck, Speier hung a first-pitch slider to Blalock, who slammed it for a two-run home run to give the Texas Rangers a 9-7 walk-off victory.

"We gave [an intentional walk to Blalock] a lot of consideration, and of course we thought about who was on deck -- we weighed that a lot," Scioscia said after the Rangers cut the Angels' American League West lead to half a game. "If Justin didn't feel good about the matchup, we would have walked him."

Speier has been feeling very good about himself lately, having given up one earned run and six hits in 10 2/3 innings of his previous 12 games, and he had held the left-handed-hitting Blalock to one hit in eight at-bats, striking him out three times.

But lefties were also hitting .304 against Speier this season, and Blalock hit a solo home run in the fourth inning and doubled in the sixth Wednesday night.

After Speier whiffed Marlon Byrd for the second out, pitching coach Mike Butcher came to the mound.

"We had a couple of options, and he talked about what we were going to try to do if we went after Blalock and what we weren't going to try to do if we got behind in the count on him," Scioscia said.

"If push came to shove, we had first base open, and Justin had some areas to play with to get Blalock to expand. He made a mistake with the first pitch, and that was it."

Speier said Butcher told him to not give in to Blalock under any circumstances.

"I tried to throw a little back-door slider, so that was not the right pitch," Speier said. "I threw him that pitch [Monday night] and he swung through it. I'm smart enough to know I couldn't give in, and I gave him something way too good to hit. That's my fault."

Where did Speier want the pitch?

"It was supposed to be a ball, down and away," he said. "I don't know where it was. I know it ended up in center field."

In the top of the inning, it was the Angels, who trailed by six runs after six innings, who provided the drama.

Juan Rivera followed walks to Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter with a two-out, three-run home run to right-center off closer Frank Francisco that tied the score, 7-7.

Rivera's 14th homer should have been a grand slam, but after Chone Figgins led off the ninth with a drive into the right-field corner, he caught a spike in the dirt, stumbled around second and was tagged out in a rundown between second and third.

Had Figgins stopped at second, the Angels would have taken a one-run lead, and closer Brian Fuentes would have pitched the ninth.

It was the last of four costly baserunning mistakes for an Angels team that prides itself on pressuring opponents on the bases.

The Angels rallied for three runs in the seventh, on Figgins' RBI triple and Hunter's two-run double, to trim the Rangers' lead to 7-4, and they had runners on first (Vladimir Guerrero) and third (Hunter) with Rivera, who led the AL with 24 RBIs in June, at the plate.

Guerrero, who is several years removed from being a stolen-base threat, took off on his own on a 2-and-1 pitch and was thrown out by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the second out.

Rivera then flied to center for what should have been a sacrifice fly but was instead the last out.

In the sixth, the Angels had runners on first (Rivera) and third (Guerrero) with one out. Maicer Izturis hit a bloop to shallow center, and Byrd raced in to make a diving catch.

Guerrero tagged from third, but Rivera was all the way around second when Byrd made the catch.

Byrd threw home, but the Rangers had time to double Rivera off first for a bizarre sacrifice fly/double play. Because Guerrero touched home before Rivera was doubled up, his run counted.

In the second, Guerrero was caught too far off second on Rivera's grounder back to pitcher Kevin Millwood. Guerrero was tagged out in a rundown, and Rivera was thrown out trying to advance to second on the play.

"It was an ugly game," Hunter said. "All of us made mistakes. Everybody."


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