Not only were they leading the Dodgers by two runs in the fifth inning of a must-win game at Dodger Stadium on Friday night, but roughly 1,500 miles away, the Houston Astros had blown a late lead against the Texas Rangers.
After coming within one strike of clinching the AL West’s second playoff spot for themselves — and eliminating the Angels in the process — the Astros gave up a tying home run in the ninth and squandered another one-run lead in the 10th to lose in extra innings.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the Angels had taken Clayton Kershaw deep twice. Starter Andrew Heaney had survived his first two times through the Dodgers’ order with a lead intact. And for a moment, it seemed the Angels' faint playoff dreams would last another night.
Three at-bats, however, changed the game. Justin Turner hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Max Muncy lined a single in the next at-bat to chase Heaney from the game. Then Will Smith dealt the fatal blow, blasting a go-ahead two-run homer off reliever Matt Andriese.
It was a gut punch from which the Angels couldn’t recover. With an eventual 9-5 loss to the Dodgers, their postseason chances were officially dashed.
Having spent the previous two nights isolated from the public in a hotel on the coast, just in case they managed to gain entry to a playoff race they seemed destined to lose, the Angels still had four innings Friday to mount a comeback after Smith’s home run.
But the kind of resilience that had kept their season alive during a 14-6 stretch entering Friday had run out. They went down in order in the sixth, stranded leadoff singles in the seventh and eighth, and hardly challenged Kenley Jansen in the ninth.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, doubled their lead on Joc Pederson’s RBI single in the seventh, then did it again courtesy of Edwin Ríos’ two-run homer off Mike Mayers in the eighth.
The game was momentarily delayed in the top of that inning when alarms and flashing lights erupted around the ballpark, sending security officers running through to turn them off.
The Angels had far less luck preventing a buzzer from sounding on their own season. After getting the help they needed, they couldn’t help themselves. For a sixth consecutive season, only one of Los Angeles’ teams will be playing in the playoffs.
“It’s upsetting,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said after his team dropped to 26-32. “We gave it a nice run. Texas really helped us a lot tonight. We had a nice thing going on.”
The “nice thing” got going too late for a team that was 12-24 at the end of August.
Before Friday night, Heaney had been instrumental to the Angels’ September surge. He entered the game with a 3.16 ERA and 26 strikeouts over his previous four starts. But his penchant for giving up home runs — Heaney gave up 20 in 18 starts last season — had begun to reemerge. He gave up two in a no-decision last week, one in a win Sept. 13 and another in a loss Sept. 8.
He had yielded three by the time Maddon replaced him with Andriese, who had held onto leads in three straight appearances dating to last week.
Maddon’s decision backfired. Smith emerged victorious from a nine-pitch battle with Andriese, drilling a changeup left over the inner half of the plate for a two-run homer and a 6-5 Dodgers lead.
After the Angels retreated to the visiting clubhouse, Maddon took a seat in his office. He didn’t want to address the lost season with his team yet. The Angels had to return to their hotel, where they would “bubble up” again with little else to look forward to.
“Obviously we ended up falling short but I don't think anybody in our clubhouse was ever going to give up on the season, was ever going to give up on this team,” Heaney said. “That's all you can ask, for guys to come in, put in the work, put in the effort and do what you can to win ballgames and keep it rolling. I'm proud to be on this team. I'm proud to be a part of this group. Even though we obviously didn't achieve our goals.”
Turner stays hot
Friday was Turner’s 10th career multiple home run game, doubling his season total from two to four on a night he was removed as planned at the start of the sixth to rest his left hamstring.
“I don’t think I ever thought about doubling my home run total at the end of September,” he joked, reflecting upon another strange occurrence in this pandemic-shortened season.
What isn’t strange is Turner’s recent form at the plate. He is 12 for 28 (.429) with two doubles, two homers and three RBIs since returning from the injured list on Sept. 15. Manager Dave Roberts said he expects Turner to play a full game in the field Saturday for the first time since his activation.
Kershaw frustrated with finale
Clayton Kershaw’s short four-inning start wasn’t by design.
“It was supposed to be a normal start,” Kershaw said. “This was just due to lack of skill today.”
The left-hander gave himself harsh marks for his regular-season finale, in which he allowed four runs, eight hits and two homers. Only one of the runs was earned, making his 2.16 season earned-run average his lowest since 2016. But, ahead of either a Game 1 or Game 2 start in next week’s wild-card round, “I’m not going to think about this one too much,” Kershaw said.
His curveball caused the most problems, leading to three hits, including Mike Trout’s three-run homer in the third. It was Trout’s first career home run against Kershaw and first hit against the Dodgers ace since 2014.
“Not throwing curveballs down the middle,” Kershaw deadpanned when asked about the reasons for his success against Trout in the past. “But I don’t know, he’s obviously a really good hitter, you can’t make mistakes. Maybe I was just fortunate in the past, hadn’t made too many mistakes. But obviously he got me tonight.”
Tony Gonsolin will start Saturday for the Dodgers, while Dustin May will throw bulk innings out of the bullpen Sunday … Roberts said the Dodgers likely will only include 12 or 13 pitchers in their 28-man roster for the best-of-three wild-card series. “It is a tough call,” Roberts said. “But in a short series, you just don’t need as much pitching.” ... At the end of play Friday, the San Francisco Giants owned the National League's eight-seed, the team that will face the Dodgers in the first round.