DETROIT -- For a vast majority of the first half, the Angels' bullpen had been among the most reliable in baseball.
Now, with the second half under way -- and the Angels' schedule at its toughest phase -- that well-oiled machine is suddenly leaking oil.
During the weekend series at Yankee Stadium, Scott Downs gave up four runs in a rare blown save in the opener, and the Angels almost blew a five-run, ninth-inning lead in the finale. On Monday night, the start of a four-game set against the scorching Tigers, the Angels couldn't hold a lead, suffering an 8-6 defeat that gave them three losses in their first four second-half games.
Ervin Santana wasn't great, but he wasn't bad, giving up four runs (two earned) through six innings. But LaTroy Hawkins gave up a seventh-inning, two-run homer to Brennan Boesch to put the Tigers ahead by two. And when the Angels cut their deficit to one in the top of the eighth -- on Mark Trumbo's 25th homer -- David Carpenter allowed an insurance run to score in the bottom half.
From the time Ernesto Frieri was acquired on May 3 to the end of the first half, the Angels had the second-best bullpen ERA in the American League at 2.60.
In four second-half games -- and with the non-waiver Trade Deadline now only two weeks away -- that same relief corps has surrendered 11 runs on nine hits and 11 walks in six innings.
The Angels can only hope it's a small hiccup.
"They've been saving us so much, man," said Torii Hunter, whose brilliant all-around game went for naught. "This is one or two games or whatever. I can't say that you can let them slide with this, but you can. They've been doing a great job."
Hisanori Takahashi began the seventh with a 5-4 lead and gave up a leadoff single to the disruptive Quintin Berry. Then came Hawkins, who got Miguel Cabrera to ground out and then intentionally walked Prince Fielder with first base open.
After Berry stole third base, Hawkins gave up a sacrifice fly to Delmon Young to tie the score. The next batter, Boesch, got a 2-2 fastball on the inside corner and drove it out to right field, providing the go-ahead runs in the Tigers' eighth win in their last nine games.
"It's a good feeling," Boesch said, "and I'm just happy I could do something to help the team."
In this second half, the Angels are getting very little breathing room -- especially early.
Twenty of their first 23 games after the All-Star break are against teams with winning records. The Angels went from playing a Yankees club that hits homers like a beer-league softball team, to playing a Tigers club that had averaged nearly six runs per game over their previous 15, and will next host the world-beating Rangers.
"It doesn't matter who you're playing or where you're playing, but how you're playing," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's what's important. And we played a poor ballgame tonight."
Scioscia was referring to a lot of things there. Like Erick Aybar's throwing error to start the bottom of the first, which led to a run. And Santana throwing wide of second base on a potential inning-ending double play in the fourth, giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead. And, of course, the bullpen's struggles.
"Those guys have been pitching a lot, and we need some things to stabilize and get back into some roles that were defined," Scioscia said. "Hopefully we'll get there. Tonight's game, as much as it looks like the bullpen struggled, and they did, you can't give a team as deep as they are offensively that many outs and that many opportunities."
Santana was coming off giving up eight runs in 1 1/3 innings to the Indians on July 4 and was searching for any positive sign for what had been a rough season. He got it through the first four frames, when he was charged with just the two unearned runs, scattered three hits and a walk and -- perhaps most important in his case -- got ahead on 11 of the 17 batters he faced.
But then, with two outs in the fifth, he got into trouble, giving up a bunt single to Berry, walking Cabrera and then surrendering back-to-back RBI singles to Fielder and Young as the Tigers cut their deficit to one.
"Part of it is definitely finishing innings," Scioscia said of Santana and his 5.60 ERA. "Sometimes, when you're not as sharp as you can be, finishing innings, which seems like a simple thing -- two outs, nobody on -- it's still a challenge, because you're going to have to make pitches."
Hunter, out of the starting lineup the previous two games due to a tight right groin, did it all for the Angels early on.
On defense, he leaped in front of the wall in right-center field to rob Berry of extra bases and double up Austin Jackson at first, then ran a long way to track down a potential RBI double by Jhonny Peralta in the gap. Against Tigers starter Rick Porcello, he got three hits, two of them doubles, and drove in three runs.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Hunter notched his fourth hit on a bunt single, then advanced to second on an errant throw by Cabrera. But Albert Pujols, who had two hits and an RBI, lined out to center field to end the game.
"I did miss being out there," Hunter said. "Felt good. But it doesn't matter because we didn't win. That's all I care about is the 'W.'"
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.