HOUSTON -- The Angels’ offense came alive late, scoring four runs in the seventh, but it wasn’t enough to erase several costly defensive mistakes, especially in a five-run fourth inning capped by a game-changing grand slam from Alex Bregman.
The Angels didn’t officially commit an error, but they still made a slew of miscues that led to the shortest start of the season from lefty Patrick Sandoval and a frustrating 9-6 loss on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. The club is now in danger of suffering a four-game sweep at the hands of the Astros, who lead them by six games in the AL Wild Card standings and are 5-1 against the Angels this year.
“It’s frustrating losing, but good championship teams take advantage of mistakes, and they certainly did today,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “None more glaring than in the fourth inning. We ended up costing ourselves four runs with Bregman’s grand slam after those mistakes. We didn’t get an out on a grounder to short, we didn’t cover first base and it ends up becoming the difference.”
The defensive issues started early, when Mauricio Dubón reached on an infield single to short to open the first inning. Dubón was originally ruled out, but the call was overturned, as shortstop Livan Soto couldn’t get the ball to first base in time.
Dubón was credited with a single, as it was a tough play, but appeared to be one that could’ve been made. Soto was making just his second start of the season at short with Zach Neto out with left foot soreness after being hit by a pitch on Friday.
Sandoval later issued a two-out walk and paid for it, allowing the game’s first run to score on an RBI single from José Abreu on a 1-2 slider that was left up in the zone.
But it was the fourth inning when the defensive miscues led to Sandoval’s departure after 3 1/3 innings. It started out innocently enough with a strikeout of Jake Meyers, but Sandoval gave up a single to No. 9 hitter Martín Maldonado to spark the rally.
Dubón followed with a weak grounder up the middle, but Soto couldn’t quite get to it, allowing Dubón to reach with yet another ground-ball single. Jeremy Peña followed with a potential double-play grounder to Soto, but he booted it. By the time he recovered, he tried to throw to first, only for Peña to reach easily to load the bases.
It was generously ruled a hit for Peña and brought up slugger Yordan Alvarez. Alvarez, though, softly hit a grounder to second baseman Brandon Drury, who had nowhere to go with the throw because first baseman Jared Walsh initially tried to get to the ball to his right, and Sandoval failed to cover first base. It was again ruled an infield single and brought home a run.
“I was sorta unlucky, but the play that got by Walsh and was hit to Drury, that’s on me,” said Sandoval, who fell to 3-5 with a 4.14 ERA in 11 starts. “I kind of gave up on it when I saw it get past Walsh. It should’ve been at least one out there.”
Sandoval induced four straight playable ground balls but instead exited with the bases loaded and the Angels down by two runs. Reliever Jacob Webb came in and promptly gave up a grand slam to Bregman on a 1-0 fastball to give the Astros a 7-1 lead. It wasn’t hit hard, as it left the bat at 95 mph and only would’ve been a home run in the Crawford Boxes in Houston, but it still counted and turned out to be too much for the Angels to overcome.
“It was the third time through against Bregman, and the head-to-head vs. Sandoval is pretty lopsided,” Nevin said. “Webby had been great coming in and getting outs with runners on base. … It just didn’t work out for us today.”
The Angels made it a two-run game with a four-run seventh keyed by a solo homer from Hunter Renfroe and an RBI double from Shohei Ohtani, who fell a home run short of the cycle in his four-hit afternoon. Then, Renfroe grounded out with the bases loaded to end the rally. And rookie reliever Ben Joyce surrendered two runs in the bottom of the inning to put it further out of reach.
“We took some great at-bats in the seventh, eighth and ninth and hit some balls hard and scored some runs,” Nevin said. “But we just shot ourselves in the foot in the fourth, and the game looks a lot different.”