Angels manager Joe Maddon has seen too many final-month miracles — the 1964 Cardinals erasing a 6 ½-game Sept. 20 deficit to overtake the Phillies for the National League pennant, the 1995 Mariners overcoming a six-game Sept. 12 deficit to tie the Angels and win a one-game playoff for the American League West title — to give up on this season.
But the window of opportunity for the Angels — one that remarkably remains cracked open despite their brutal 20-30 record following Wednesday night’s 9-6 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Angel Stadium — is closing quickly.
The Angels had a chance to cut into their playoff deficit when slumping Houston lost to Texas earlier Wednesday night, but ace Dylan Bundy picked the wrong time to throw his worst game of the season, and the Angels remained 4 ½ games behind the Astros with 10 games to play.
“I didn’t know about the [Houston] score, but I’m sure the guys did,” Maddon said. “It’s frustrating for everybody. Of course, the opportunities are slipping quickly by, but we’ve got to keep pounding on the door.”
Bundy entered with a 5-2 record and 2.48 ERA in his first nine starts, the right-hander ranking fifth in the league in ERA, fifth with an 0.91 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) and sixth with 67 strikeouts. He had not allowed more than two earned runs in all but two of his starts.
But Bundy didn’t have his usual feel for and command of his slider, curveball and changeup, and he gave up four earned runs in the second inning alone. He lasted only 2 2/3 innings, allowing six runs and six hits, striking out two and walking two.
“I was getting behind in the count and missing just off the plate or below the zone with my off-speed pitches,” Bundy said. “Mainly, it was getting behind and having to throw a non-competitive off-speed pitch or a fastball not located very well, and I got singled to death.”
After retiring the side in order in the first, Bundy allowed the first six batters to reach in a four-run, 37-pitch second that included David Peralta’s run-scoring single, Nick Ahmed’s two-run single and Stephen Vogt’s RBI single.
Angels catcher Max Stassi cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the second when he followed Justin Upton’s walk with a two-run homer that traveled 444 feet to left-center to make it 4-2.
Bundy got two quick outs in the third before giving up singles to Peralta and Ahmed. Left-hander Hoby Milner replaced Bundy and walked Vogt to load the bases. Daulton Varsho followed with a grounder that shifted second baseman David Fletcher fielded in shallow right field.
Fletcher’s long, off-balance throw to Milner covering first was late and wide, one run scoring on Varsho’s single and another on Fletcher’s error for a 6-2 Diamondbacks lead.
“He’s been really good almost every game but maybe two,” Maddon said of Bundy. “You could just tell that he was off just a click and just did not have the sharpness or command of his off-speed pitches.”
After overcoming a seven-run, fourth-inning deficit in Tuesday night’s 9-8 loss to Arizona, the Angels rallied again Wednesday night.
They trimmed the deficit to 6-4 when Jared Walsh hit a two-out solo homer to left-center in the fifth, the first baseman’s sixth homer in seven games, and Upton lined a two-out solo homer to left in the sixth.
Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval, recalled from the team’s alternate training site earlier Wednesday, replaced Milner to start the fourth and retired nine of 10 batters — the first three by strikeout—over the next three innings.
But Sandoval ran into trouble in the seventh when Christian Walker led off with a double to left, Kole Calhoun crushed a two-run homer to center — the 12th homer of the season and third in two games against his former team — and Peralta hit a solo homer to right for a 9-4 Arizona lead.
The Angels got two runs back in the bottom of the seventh when Andrelton Simmons led off with a single to right, Walsh walked with one out, Mike Trout hit an RBI double to center and Anthony Rendon hit an RBI groundout to shortstop to make it 9-6.
But the rally ended when Varsho, the Arizona center fielder, made a diving catch of Albert Pujols’ sinking liner to left-center field.
The Angels threatened again in the eighth when Upton led off with a single to right, Stassi singled to right and Upton took third on a wild pitch, putting runners on first and third with no outs.
But Jo Adell struck out — the rookie right fielder is hitless in 24 at-bats with 13 strikeouts in his last seven games — and Simmons grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
“We get behind the proverbial eight-ball often and we just keep fighting back, and that’s a great characteristic to have,” Maddon said. “But to get to the promised land, you’ve got to pitch, you just cannot get there and win unless you pitch at a high level consistently.”
Maddon has been pleased with his team’s fight and effort and energy, but when asked how the morale of the club is, Bundy said, “It’s not good, obviously. It’s never good when you’re losing. We have to come back tomorrow, and we have to win a lot in the next 10 games.”
To have any chance of sneaking into the playoffs, the Angels will probably have to win all 10 of their remaining games. But to do that, they have to win one.
“We understand the math — we have to almost be perfect — but we just have to keep playing,” Maddon said. “Try to win tonight’s game and we’ll see what happens after that. That’s all we can focus on. If you start trying to dissect the entire picture, it will seem impossible.”