Carlos Pena belts a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth inning against… (Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty…)
The Angels blew an eight-run, third-inning lead in a 10-8 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday night, a defeat that easily surpassed their 11-10 loss in Texas on Aug. 1 -- a game in which they gave up four runs in the 10th -- as their ugliest of the season.
The Angels have now lost 12 of 17 games to fall eight games behind the Rangers in the American League West and 3 1/2 games off the wild-card pace, and their pitching staff -- rotation and bullpen -- is in tatters.
C.J. Wilson was torched for seven runs in the fifth, Kevin Jepsen gave up a pinch-hit two-run homer to Carlos Pena that snapped an 8-8 tie in the eighth, and an Angels team with a $159-million payroll and World Series aspirations moved another step toward the brink of disaster.
"We really have to dig deep and figure out what we want to do," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said. "For me, that should be nothing less than getting to the playoffs and winning the World Series.
"But to do that, we've got to have playoff at-bats, playoff pitching and playoff defense. We've got to play the game at another level. We can't stay where we are. We've got to turn it up a notch and play smart, better baseball."
The Angels held a 30-minute players-only meeting after the game "to clear the air," Manager Mike Scioscia said.
"We just had a family discussion," Hunter said. "It was productive. It was something we needed. It was awesome."
Can a meeting like that break the tension of a losing streak?
"Sometimes,” Hunter said. “We’ll see tomorrow."
Asked what needed to be cleared, Scioscia said, "After a loss like that, some frustration can set in when you’re not winning games you should. These players care. I've heard a lot of things thrown around this month about a lack of heart, a lack of killer instinct, not playing 27 outs. That’s not what this team is about.
"This team has an incredible amount of heart and a passion for playing the game. Unfortunately right now, they're not playing at the level they can, and that's where the frustration comes in."
On a night the Angels honored their 2002 World Series championship team, the Angels channeled some of that club's energy and offensive execution, pounding the Rays for 13 hits and eight runs in the first three innings.
Mike Trout, Hunter and Albert Pujols combined to go eight for nine with two homers and six runs batted in in those frames, Trout starting a string of five straight hits in the first with his 23rd homer and Pujols smashing a two-run shot, his 27th, in the second.
But for the rest of the night, the Angels channeled their 1995 team, which suffered one of baseball's worst collapses when it blew an 11-game early August lead and lost the division to Seattle.
Wilson blanked the Rays on one hit through four, and with an 8-0 lead, all he had to do to snap a nine-start winless streak was get through the fifth relatively unscathed. That, apparently, was asking too much from a member of a rotation that is 3-6 with a 6.38 ERA in 17 starts this month.
With one out in the fifth, Sean Rodriguez singled, Jose Lobaton walked, Sam Fuld hit an RBI single, and Desmond Jennings walked with the bases loaded. Wilson struck out B.J. Upton for the second out, but Ben Zobrist shot a 1-and-2 pitch into the left-field corner for a three-run double that made it 8-5.
Evan Longoria followed with a two-run homer to right-center field to make it 8-7, and out came Wilson, who is now 0-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 10 starts since a June 26 win over the Orioles.
"I looked in the mirror again, I watched the inning again, and I overthrew the ball to Zobrist," Wilson said. "That's what it boiled down to, I tried to do too much. Sometimes less is more. I put too much energy into that pitch, it was more of a throw than a pitch."
Jason Isringhausen struck out Jeff Keppinger to end the inning but couldn't hold the lead in the sixth, as Ryan Roberts doubled, took third on Chris Iannetta's passed ball and scored on Lobaton's sacrifice fly to make it 8-8. The eight-run lead was the largest surrendered by the Angels this season.
Jepsen, the Angels' best reliever since the All-Star break and a right-hander who allowed one earned run and seven hits in 16 innings of his previous 19 appearances, struck out two of three in a scoreless seventh.
But he gave up a single to Keppinger to open the eighth, and Pena homered to right for a 10-8 lead.
"I felt fine," Jepsen said in response to a question about going out for a second inning. "I threw a fastball where Pena loves to hit fastballs. If I locate it like I did the first inning, it’s a swing and a miss or a double play. I missed over the plate, and he's as good as they come at hitting mistakes."
Six Rays relievers, including former Angels Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney, blanked the Angels on three hits over the final 6 1/3 innings, as the Rays improved to 8-1 against the Angels this season.
With runners on second and third, Rodney struck out Erick Aybar and got pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis to ground out, ending the game. Rodney's 38th save leads the majors.
"When we make mistakes right now, teams are making us pay," Jepsen said. "It's just one of those things. If we had won five in a row and I gave up a two-run homer and we lost, it's not that big of a deal. But they’re coming one after another right now."