PHILADELPHIA -- At long last, it appeared the Angels’ 10-game losing streak would be over.
They took a five-run lead in the fourth inning, held a four-run cushion in the eighth and even after closer Raisel Iglesias served up a game-tying grand slam to Bryce Harper in the eighth, the Angels took a one-run lead in the ninth when Matt Duffy came through with a go-ahead RBI single. But reliever Jimmy Herget was called in for a one-out save and promptly gave up a walk-off three-run homer to rookie Bryson Stott to hand the Angels a heartbreaking 9-7 loss on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.
It was the toughest defeat yet for the Angels, who have dropped 11 in a row for the first time since Aug. 4-15, 2016. It also dropped them to 26-27 on the year after being a season-high 11 games over .500 on May 15. They joined some dubious company, becoming only the fourth team since 1900 to lose 10 games or more in a row to fall back to .500 or worse in a season, joining the 1991 Reds, ‘78 A's and ‘70 Cubs. None of those clubs made the postseason.
"We've lost a lot of tough ones and it really makes no sense,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “We got the right guys out there and the right time. And again, we gave it up late. We have to get that fixed. I loved the fight but we have to finish these games off, and that's a big part of the situation we're in right now."
Losing late leads has been a consistent theme for the Angels during their skid, including three tough losses to the Blue Jays at Angel Stadium last weekend before losing a close game late to the Yankees in Game 2 of Thursday’s doubleheader.
This time, it was Iglesias who couldn’t get it done. Lefty Aaron Loup came in for the eighth with the Angels up by four runs but left with the bases loaded and one out, as Duffy made a critical throwing error to second base that sparked the rally.
Maddon has tried to avoid using Iglesias for multi-inning saves this year, but the Angels were starving for a win and Iglesias hadn't pitched since May 27. Iglesias struck out Rhys Hoskins and was one strike away from getting out of the jam against Harper. But despite getting ahead, 0-2, Iglesias left a 3-2 changeup over the middle of the plate and Harper hammered it for a game-tying grand slam. Harper improved to 4-for-6 with three homers in his career against Iglesias.
"He got to two strikes on him and he didn't have to throw him a strike,” Maddon said. “We could've walked him. I've done that before. But Iggy is a closer. I've seen the numbers, but I was just trusting my gut."
Duffy helped make up for his throwing error with a go-ahead RBI single with two outs in the ninth, and Iglesias came back out for the ninth. But after giving up two singles, Iglesias was removed for Herget, who had been pitching well with a 0.61 ERA over his last nine appearances. But Herget fell behind Stott, 3-0, and gave up the game-winner on a 3-2 curveball.
"Obviously, I let the team down,” Herget said. “It was a pitch I had conviction in. I'd been throwing it all year and have been striking guys out with it. I threw it, and he hit it. It's unfortunate."
Duffy, a seven-year veteran, called it the toughest stretch he’s been a part of in his career and said the Angels have been pressing and trying to do too much to get out of their rut. He said they’ve already had a team meeting led by the players and one by the coaching staff.
"In a stretch like this, the tendency is to try to do too much, which I might've done on that ground ball,” Duffy said. “I feel like, especially in the ninth inning there, the situation feels like Game 7 of the World Series, but it's not. That's the difficult part about a stretch like this, is everybody just staying within themselves and playing their best game and nothing more."
Maddon said the Angels have to put it behind them, as they have an important seven-game homestand coming up against the surging Red Sox and first-place Mets.
"It's gut-wrenching at times, but you have to move on to the next day,” Maddon said. "It's not easy, but you don't quit, and you go back home and try to fix it. But we have to get our bullpen in shape, because that's where the primary concern is."