This little two-man relay team the Angels have forged with Zack Greinke and Ernesto Frieri is not going to work as long as the anchor man keeps dropping the baton.
In a near carbon copy of Saturday's gut-wrenching loss in Kansas City, Greinke handed the ball to Frieri after a superb effort, and that ball was deposited way beyond an outfield wall by an opposing slugger.
This time it was Adrian Beltre who drove yet another dagger into the Angels' fading playoff hopes, crushing a Frieri slider for a two-run home run to left field in the top of the ninth inning to lift the Texas Rangers to a 3-1 victory Thursday night in Angel Stadium.
The American League West title is well out of reach for the Angels, who are 81/2 games behind Texas, and now the wild card is slipping away — the Angels are 41/2 games behind co-leaders Oakland and Baltimore with 12 games to play.
"It's still out there for us if we can get on the roll we're capable of," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "The guys understand the situation. They know we need to come out tomorrow with the same kind of purpose that got us back into this race and start to put up wins."
Greinke, who is 4-0 with a 1.60 earned-run average in his last six starts, gave the Angels a chance with a dominant eight-inning effort in which he gave up one run and five hits, struck out eight and walked none.
The score was tied, 1-1, when he was pulled to start the ninth, and his pitch count was at 109, the exact number he was at with one out in the ninth inning and the Angels leading the Royals, 2-0, Saturday. In a span of four pitches that night, Frieri gave up a two-run homer to Billy Butler and a solo shot to Salvador Perez for a 3-2 loss.
Scioscia was faced with the exact same decision Thursday night — stay with Greinke, who had some lower-back tightness in early September, or go to his bullpen — and he didn't flinch, citing a reluctance to push Greinke beyond 115 pitches, a mark he has hit or passed only three times in 32 starts with Milwaukee and the Angels this season.
"Zack has a range he's comfortable in, we're comfortable in, and we're not going to extend anybody," Scioscia said. "He pitched a terrific game. He got us to a certain point. When you start to get to a certain range, you want to be careful. You don't want to set him back or risk injury."
Butler burned Frieri on a first-pitch fastball in Kansas City, but after Michael Young led off the ninth with a single Thursday night, it was an 81-mph, 2-and-1 slider that Beltre hit for his 34th homer.
Beltre was not in the original lineup, but he convinced Manager Ron Washington he had recovered from an intestinal problem that knocked him out of Wednesday night's game.
"That was the pitch I wanted to throw," Frieri said. "I didn't execute the pitch. I wanted to go down and away and it was over the middle of the plate."
Was the meltdown in Kansas City on Frieri's mind when he took the mound against the Rangers?
"To be here and stay here, you need to be professional, you need to be strong," Frieri said. "I don't even remember what happened the other day. I did my best today, and it happened. It's tough because we need to win."
Beltre's homer made a winner of Yu Darvish, the hard-throwing and crafty right-hander who gave up one run and four hits, struck out nine and walked one in eight innings to improve to 16-9. Joe Nathan threw a scoreless ninth for his 34th save.
Texas struck first when Nelson Cruz led off the fifth with a single to left, took third on David Murphy's hit-and-run single and scored on Geovany Soto's sacrifice fly to right.
The Angels countered in the sixth when Mark Trumbo led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Peter Bourjos, who took third on Chris Iannetta's hit-and-run single. Mike Trout struck out, but Bourjos scored on Torii Hunter's broken-bat, fielder's-choice grounder to shortstop.