Pujols hits homer No. 506, but Angels fall in opener
SEATTLE -- The Angels' overall success over the season's first eight weeks hasn't yet funneled into their own division, and especially not with regards to one of its most up-and-coming members. Their 5-1 Memorial Day defeat at Safeco Field dropped them to 8-11 against the American League West -- compared to 20-11 against everybody else -- and it marked their fifth loss in six games against the Mariners in 2014.
"Obviously they've been giving us trouble," Angels catcher Hank Conger said, "but I don't feel like we're getting dominated by any means."
Not after an opening three-game series that saw the Mariners outscore them by 18 runs at Angel Stadium, at least.
And not necessarily on Monday, either.
Tyler Skaggs gave up five runs (two earned) in the first two innings, yet somehow managed to pitch deeper in the game than his opponent, Chris Young, who didn't allow a hit through the first 5 1/3 innings. The Angels' 22-year-old lefty completed seven innings -- compared to Young's 6 1/3 -- thanks to a stretch in which Skaggs retired 14 of 15 batters.
Skaggs needed 49 pitches to get through his last five innings, but 49 others to get through his first two.
The Mariners entered with the second-worst OPS in the AL, then saw eight of their first 13 batters reach base. Four of them did so on balls that didn't leave the infield. And had it not been for a key error by shortstop Erick Aybar, who bobbled a slow roller with a runner on third and two outs in the second, Skaggs may have given up just the two first-inning runs.
After the error, Michael Saunders tripled, Robinson Cano drove in a run on Seattle's third infield single and the Angels were facing a five-run deficit.
"It's frustrating," Skaggs said of having so many guys reach on balls that weren't hit very hard, "but they put the bat on the ball, and good things happen when you put the bat on the ball. It was also terrible they stole three bases in one inning. That's the first time it's happened to me."
Skaggs entered the second inning having given up just three stolen bases in 59 2/3 innings all year, then allowed easy steals to Dustin Ackley, James Jones and Cano, all of whom broke on Skaggs' first move.
"I got so focused on the hitter I didn't even realize what was going on," Skaggs said. "But I figured it out after that. I'm definitely taking the positives out of today's outing."
The positive was that Skaggs -- 4-2 with a 3.97 ERA on the year -- refocused, turned the page, made some key adjustments and cruised from the start of the third to the end of the seventh, giving up one hit and one walk while striking out five in that span. It was a stretch the Angels needed, given the fact that their relievers compiled 12 2/3 innings over the previous three days and Wade LeBlanc -- called up in case they need length out of the bullpen -- is needed to start Thursday's game.
But, as Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "The damage had been done."
With a fastball that didn't top 88 mph, and a 6-foot-10 frame that plays it a lot harder than the radar gun indicates, Young took advantage of the early lead, twirling 6 1/3 innings of two-hit ball to move to 4-2 with a 3.30 ERA on the year. The 35-year-old didn't allow a hit until Kole Calhoun's one-out single in the sixth -- Calhoun's first hit in 15 at-bats since coming off the disabled list -- and didn't allow a run until Albert Pujols' leadoff homer in the seventh, his team-leading 14th on the year.
"I was aware," Young said of not allowing a hit through the first five frames, "but you know you don't expect to throw no-hitters. I saw what Josh Beckett did yesterday. We had the same surgery last year. I'm super excited for him, to see that. It's inspirational, and it gives me hope that I can continue to make the most of my career as well."
The Angels' hope lies in how well they've been playing, even if it hasn't translated to success against Seattle.
They entered this 10-game road trip with 12 wins in their previous 16 games, and four consecutive series victories. Four of their five losses to the Mariners came within the first nine games of the season. The Angels are a different team now -- sporting an AL-best 20-12 record since April 21 -- and they hope that translates over the next three games of this series.
"They've played us very tough; took it to us those first three games of season," Scioscia said. "But we're not going to get preoccupied with that. They've got a good club, you have to play well to beat them. I think overall, we're at a much higher level now than we've been at any point of the season."