Short-handed Angels lose to Royals on frantic final play

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Jack Harris
·5 min read
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Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, right, forces out Los Angeles Angels Albert Pujols (5) during the sixth inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez forces out Angels' Albert Pujols during the sixth inning on Tuesday in Kansas City. (Orlin Wagner / Associated Press)

David Fletcher was in no man’s land.

Representing the Angels’ tying run at third with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday night, the player who has made a career out of doing the small things right watched one big play go horribly wrong.

In an 0-2 count to Jared Walsh, Royals pitcher Greg Holland spiked a slider in the dirt. The ball ricocheted off catcher Salvador Perez. And Fletcher, anticipating a wild pitch the whole at-bat, immediately broke for home.

There was only one problem: The ball bounced off Walsh in the batter’s box and redirected right back in front of Perez. Fletcher tried to reverse course, hitting the brakes some 20 feet down the line and sliding desperately back for third. But Perez’s throw was too good. Fletcher reached the bag too late.

Game over. Royals 3, Angels 2.

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“Sometimes, the ball bounces your way,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It literally did not bounce our way tonight.”

Indeed, it was a fitting end to a game of near-misses for the Angels, who outhit the Royals 12-5 but left 11 men on base, went one for nine with runners in scoring position, and permitted what proved to be the decisive run to score in the fifth after catcher Kurt Suzuki dropped a popup in foul ground.

Still, they had a chance to extend the game in the ninth.

Fletcher began the rally with a one-out single and advanced to second after Shohei Ohtani roped his third hit of the game — he also had a home run in the fifth inning — into right. Mike Trout whiffed on a two-strike slider next, finishing with four strikeouts for the first time since 2017. But then Albert Pujols loaded the bases, drawing a full-count to bring Walsh to the plate.

Walsh quickly fell behind with two quick strikes.

But 90 feet away, Fletcher was waiting for anything near the dirt, taking aggressive secondary leads knowing the Angels were down to their last out.

It finally came on the third pitch, a slider from Holland that seemed to skip off the plate and into Perez's chest protector.

“I was gonna score pretty easy,” Fletcher said. “And then it hit Walsh.”

The Angels challenged the tag at third to no avail, exiting the field in defeat after a day full of player losses on the roster.

Earlier Tuesday, the Angels put catcher Max Stassi and outfielder Juan Lagares on the 10-day injured list. Stassi has a left thumb sprain after getting hit by a foul tip Monday night. Lagares is down with a left calf strain.

Then, an hour before first pitch, left fielder Justin Upton was scratched with back stiffness. (Maddon said Upton could be back in the lineup Wednesday but will see how he feels pregame.)

Coupled with the absence of third baseman Anthony Rendon, who was placed on the IL on Monday, the Angels were forced to use an unfamiliar lineup. Jon Jay played left field and batted eighth. Jack Mayfield manned third base and batted ninth.

It was each player’s first start with the Angels. And they came up empty in several key moments, Mayfield striking out with the bases loaded in the sixth and Jay looking at a borderline called third strike to end a one-run rally in the eighth.

Suzuki also had a hiccup behind the plate. With one out in the fifth, he dropped a routine pop-up from Whit Merrifield in foul ground. The at-bat continued, Merrifield singled and stole second, then scored on a two-out base hit from Perez.

“He makes that 11 out of 10 times,” Maddon said of Suzuki, who did drive in the Angels' second run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth. “It just didn’t happen.”

Maddon, however, found other reasons for optimism postgame.

He liked how starter Dylan Bundy worked through early command issues and a slight drop in fastball velocity — the pitch averaged just 91.5 mph Tuesday, down from 92.4 mph in his first two starts — to give up only three runs (two earned) in seven innings with six strikeouts.

“You're going to have starts where you don't feel the best in a certain way, or your mechanics are off, or you just don't have the same fastball zip,” Bundy said. “It's one of those — you just have to grind through it and go as deep as you can in the game.”

Maddon liked that, even after the recent wave of injuries required the Angels to activate all five players who began the week on their taxi squad, they still have a chance to clinch a winning road trip Wednesday.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity the last couple days,” Maddon said. “And against a really good team, we’re right there with them in their home ballpark. There’s nothing to lament.”

And he even liked Fletcher’s read on the final play, concurring that Fletcher likely would have scored had the ball bounced almost any other way.

“I have no issue with it whatsoever,” Maddon said. “It was unfortunate it hit Jared and then we couldn’t score and we’re out. I loved the way we came out and played tonight. We just did not get the hit.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.