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Angels eliminated from playoffs in 4-3 loss to Texas

Angels put up a fight but Adrian Beltre hits a two-run home run in Texas' victory. For the Angels, hopes are dashed in a game, and a season, full of many fits and starts.

September 26, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna

Rich Thompson jogged in from the bullpen for the ninth inning Monday night to his usual entry song, Midnight Oil filling the Angel Stadium sound system with, "Your dream world is just about to end!"

Only this time, it seemed more fitting. The Angels' seemingly impossible dream of making the playoffs was just about to end.

Adrian Beltre, a free-agent third baseman the Angels pursued last winter but not aggressively enough, hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning, and the Texas Rangers officially eliminated the Angels from playoff contention with a 4-3 victory.

Boston lost to Baltimore, 6-3, Monday to fall into a tie for the wild-card lead with Tampa Bay, which beat New York, 5-2. With a win, the Angels would have moved to within two games of the Red Sox and Rays with two to play.

The Angels didn't go out with a whimper, scoring twice in the sixth to make it 3-2 and pulling to within 4-3 in the ninth on Peter Bourjos' two-out, RBI single.

But Rangers closer Neftali Feliz struck out Howie Kendrick on a full-count pitch, and the Angels lost for the seventh time in 11 games to remain three games out.

"The most frustrating part is that in early September, we felt we were playing the best baseball we had all year, we felt we were going to make a good run at this, and we fell short," Manager Mike Scioscia said.

"There's a lot of mixed emotions right now, but the overwhelming one is that this stings. We anticipated finishing this thing off, and we weren't able to do it."

For the first time since 2001, the Angels have gone consecutive years without making the playoffs, though they flirted with the possibility for the last month and a half.

They nearly fell out of the race when they lost seven of eight in mid-August, and they were on the verge of dropping eight games back when they trailed Texas, 1-0, in the ninth inning Aug. 18.

But Mark Trumbo hit a walk-off two-run homer for a dramatic 2-1 win that sparked a 7-1 run, pushing the Angels to within two games of the Rangers on Aug. 27.

The closest the Angels got to Texas, though, was 11/2 games on Sept. 10. They went 5-5 on their final road trip to Oakland, Baltimore and Toronto and fell five games back.

The Rangers clinched their second straight division title Friday, but Boston's stunning September collapse drew the Angels into the wild-card race despite their uneven play over the last two weeks.

Uncharacteristic defensive lapses contributed to three gut-wrenching losses — in Toronto last Thursday and twice against Oakland over the weekend —that prevented the Angels from getting any closer than 21/2 games of the wild-card lead.

The decisive blow came Sunday, when rookie closer Jordan Walden threw away a potential game-ending double-play grounder and blew a three-run, ninth-inning lead in a 6-5 loss to the A's.

"We played so well in the second half, but in the last two weeks, during the pressure times, we folded defensively," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "We didn't do what we were supposed to do."

That the Angels remained in playoff contention until the final series was somewhat remarkable considering the loss of slugger Kendrys Morales for the season, their inconsistent and often unproductive offense and soft middle-relief corps, and General Manager Tony Reagins' failure to upgrade the team at the July and August trade deadlines.

Two of the brightest spots, the emergence of Trumbo as a premier young power hitter and 24-year-old center fielder Bourjos as a dangerous two-way threat, were dimmed by the struggles of veterans Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu and the black hole in the lineup that was the catching position.

The overpaid Wells, acquired from Toronto with four years and $81 million on his contract, was a huge bust, hitting .218, well below his .280 career average.

Wells hit 25 homers, drove in only 66 runs, had 60 runs, 20 walks and 85 strikeouts.

Age seemed to catch up with the 37-year-old Abreu, who is hitting .255 with eight homers and 59 RBIs, a steep drop from 2010.

And Angels catchers, dragged down by Jeff Mathis (.174), were among the least productive in baseball, combining to hit .193 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs.

The Angels are 58-42 in games started by Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, and the Big Three's ability to pitch consistently into the seventh and eighth innings often eliminated the need for middle relievers.

That was important, considering the struggles of Fernando Rodney, Hisanori Takahashi, Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn, who contributed to the team's 25 blown saves.

Walden took his lumps, leading the league with 10 blown saves, but he also had 32 saves and a 2.73 earned-run average. Scott Downs (1.34 ERA) was one of baseball's best setup men, and Bobby Cassevah (2.87 ERA in 29 games) emerged as a reliable seventh-inning man.

Offensively, there were solid seasons from Kendrick (.286, 18 homers, 63 RBIs), Alberto Callaspo (.290) and Erick Aybar (.280, 10 homers, 59 RBIs) and a bounce-back second half for Hunter, who hit .324 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs since Aug. 1.

Trumbo led the team with 29 homers and 87 RBIs, easing the loss of Morales, and Bourjos, a question entering the season, gained traction, hitting .270 with 12 homers, 10 triples, 26 doubles and 22 stolen bases and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.

But falling short was the theme this season for the Angels, who suffered 31 one-run losses, 13 extra-inning losses and 13 walk-off losses and scored two runs or less in 51 games.

And that's why, despite an 86-74 record that was better than their 80-82 mark in 2010, the Angels fell short again in 2011.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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