As good as the Angels have been playing and as little ground as they've made up in the American League wild-card race, it was beginning to look like it would take something dramatic, perhaps even extraordinary, for them to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
They were on the cusp of such a moment Tuesday night, rallying from a three-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning to score twice on run-scoring singles by Torii Hunter and Albert Pujols and put runners on first and third with no outs.
But with a chance to pull off their most stunning comeback of the season against the wild-card leading Oakland Athletics, the Angels came up small.
A's left-hander Jerry Blevins replaced struggling closer Grant Balfour and struck out Kendrys Morales for the first out.
With speedy pinch-runner Peter Bourjos unable to find an opening to swipe second, Howie Kendrick grounded into a double play, and Oakland held on for a thrilling 6-5 victory to win the first two games of a critical four-game series in Angel Stadium.
"We showed a lot of heart by putting ourselves in a position to come back and win that game," said left fielder Vernon Wells, who hit a two-run home run in the second inning.
"We just came up short. But we can't let this affect the next two games. We've got to split this series and go on from there."
The resilient A's have won 20 of 25 games, and in addition to leading the wild-card race, they are three games behind Texas in the AL West. The Angels fell 21/2 games behind Baltimore and New York for the second wild-card spot with 20 games left.
As frustrating as the finish was Tuesday night, the Angels were kicking themselves as much early in the game.
Singles by Mike Trout and Hunter put runners on first and third with no outs in the first inning, but Pujols flied to shallow right, Trout holding, and A's starter Dan Straily, who gave up three runs and seven hits and struck out eight in 62/3 innings, struck out Morales and Kendrick.
After Wells' homer gave the Angels a 2-1 lead in the second, Chris Iannetta was hit by a pitch with one out and took third on Trout's single. But Hunter struck out, and Pujols flied to Josh Reddick, who made a superb sliding catch in front of the wall in foul territory. The Angels went two for 10 with runners in scoring position.
"I'm mad -- we had our chances, man, and we just didn't take advantage of them," Hunter said. "Early in the game and at the end of the game, we didn't come through with runners on third base and less than two outs.
"Those are runs we should have scored."
Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes hit a solo homer in the second, and Brandon Moss keyed a three-run fourth with a two-run homer for a 4-2 lead. Hunter's solo shot in the seventh made it 4-3, but the A's scored twice in the ninth off reliever Kevin Jepsen, who had yielded runs in only two of his previous 29 appearances.
Cliff Pennington hit a two-out single, Coco Crisp lined an RBI triple to right and scored to make it 6-3 when the ball kicked away from Hunter for an error.
But Balfour walked Iannetta and Trout to open the bottom of the ninth. Hunter grounded an RBI single to center that also sent Trout to third, and Pujols lined an RBI single to left that advanced Hunter to third.
But Morales struck out, and on a 1-and-2 pitch from Blevins, Kendrick hit a hard grounder to third baseman Josh Donaldson, who fired to second to start a double play and get Blevins his first save of the season.
"I was looking for a pitch over the plate -- with two strikes, I wanted to put a good swing on it," Kendrick said. "It was a fastball inside, and I happened to hit it right at the third baseman.
"A lot of guys had some great at-bats to put us in position to win the game. You want to be the guy up there in that situation, but it just didn't happen."