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Angels' stunning ninth-inning collapse leaves them on the ropes

Closer Jordan Walden can't hold a three-run lead and Oakland rallies for a 6-5 win, leaving the Angels three games out of the wild-card race with three games left.

September 25, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna

If misery loves company, the Boston Red Sox may have found a dance partner in the Angels, who suffered an epic collapse of their own on Sunday and watched their playoff hopes slip away.

Rookie closer Jordan Walden melted down in the ninth inning, throwing away a potential game-ending double-play grounder and failing to hold a three-run lead in a devastating 6-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics in Angel Stadium.

The Angels fell three games behind Boston in the American League wild-card race with three to play after the Red Sox stopped their September free fall by gaining a split of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees on Sunday.

The Angels are also two games behind Tampa Bay, which beat Toronto, 5-2, on Sunday to move to within one game of Boston.

The Angels need to sweep a three-game series from the AL West-winning Texas Rangers, they need Boston to lose its final three games against Baltimore and the Rays to lose at least two of three to the Yankees to force a tie and a playoff for the wild card.

"We have an uphill battle," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "We still have a little life left, but it's going down slowly. This one hurts. I thought we had this game. We let it slip away."

The Angels were 4-6 in a 10-game stretch against Oakland, Toronto and Baltimore, hurt by a lack of clutch hitting, shaky relief work and a faulty defense.

But no one felt worse in the Angels' clubhouse Sunday than Walden, who suffered his league-leading 10th blown save.

"I let the team down," Walden said. "We battled all day, and I lost the game for us. It [stinks]. I was really disappointed in myself."

Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells each hit solo home runs, Joel Pineiro threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, and the Angels took a 3-0 lead into the eighth.

The A's scored twice against relievers Bobby Cassevah and Scott Downs to make it 3-2, ending Downs' streak of 25 innings without giving up a run at home this season.

Walden came on to get the last out of the eighth, and the Angels appeared to be in great shape when Peter Bourjos dunked a two-out, two-run single into shallow right field to give the Angels a 5-2 lead.

But Walden, not wanting to walk Josh Willingham on a full-count pitch to open the ninth, grooved a fastball that Willingham crushed to left for a home run, only the second homer Walden has given up this season. That made it 5-3.

Michael Taylor struck out, and Scott Sizemore and Chris Carter singled to put runners on first and second.

Adam Rosales followed with a hard grounder up the middle that Walden snared, but his throw to second sailed wide and nicked off the glove of lunging shortstop Erick Aybar for an error.

Sizemore scored on the miscue to make it 5-4, and Carter took third. Kurt Suzuki flared a double to right field to score Carter for a 5-5 tie and put runners on second and third with one out.

Jemile Weeks was walked intentionally to load the bases, and Manager Mike Scioscia summoned left-hander Hisanori Takahashi, who gave up a go-ahead sacrifice fly to Coco Crisp and got Hideki Matsui to fly out to end the inning.

"The ball was hit so hard and so quick, I hesitated," Walden said of the game's defining play. "The throw just sailed on me."

Hunter said it "seemed like Walden wasn't sure if he wanted to throw to second," but the reliever said he was committed to the double play.

Though second baseman Howie Kendrick was close to the bag, "I wasn't confused by that," Walden said. "I knew I was going to Aybar, who was coming across the bag. The ball took off on me."

A crowd of 40,794 fell silent after the rally, and it was just as quiet in the losing clubhouse.

"It's a heavy page to turn, but right now we have to turn it," Scioscia said. "These guys have had tough losses this year. We have to get to the next game."

Walden, who has 32 saves, was trying to take a similar tack.

"Once I leave here, I'm looking forward to [Monday]," he said. "If I take this loss home with me, I might stay awake until 6 a.m."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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