ANAHEIM -- The Angels' big splash of the offseason -- which brought the high expectations this team still struggles to meet -- came via the December signings of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols. It's those two, they hoped, that would put the Angels over the top, allowing them to dethrone the Rangers and once again take control of the American League West.
But on Wednesday night, with the stakes high and the clock ticking, those two played a big part in costing the Angels a game against their division rivals.
Wilson gave up three early runs and exited after only 2 2/3 innings, and with the Angels' deficit at one, Pujols made an overly aggressive mistake on the basepaths, and appeared to make another on the field, just before the Rangers opened the gap once again.
And so a day that began with so much opportunity -- with the A's losing in Detroit, and Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton out of Texas' starting lineup -- ended in more valuable time wasted. With a 6-2 loss, the Angels dropped to 3 1/2 games back of the A's for the second AL Wild Card spot and four back of the Orioles for the first.
Thirteen games remain.
"We have a couple weeks left, or maybe a month and a half left -- it just sort of depends on how we play," Wilson said. "The big downside is, the two teams we're chasing for the Wild Card, we don't face anymore."
Runs were at a premium against Rangers starter Derek Holland, who gave up only an Alberto Callaspo two-run homer in seven innings to give him six straight quality starts. Jerome Williams did his very best to keep the Angels in it, hurling 4 1/3 one-hit innings in relief of an erratic Wilson.
But Pujols' aggressiveness, the same one that has helped make him one of the most elite players of this generation, might have set the Angels back.
With one out in the sixth and his team trailing, 3-2, Pujols sliced a line drive only slightly to the left of Rangers center fielder Craig Gentry -- who four innings earlier doubled up an over-eager Vernon Wells at first -- and was thrown out easily trying to stretch it into a double. Torii Hunter followed with a ground-rule double, but the Angels couldn't tie it that inning.
It was hardly the first time Pujols has paid for his aggressiveness on the basepaths.
"He plays baseball and that's why he's successful," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He trusts his instincts. Gentry showed some real range out there and got to the ball and made that play. It's in front of [Albert]. There's no doubt getting to second base there was big. Gentry really made a nice play. We trust Albert's instincts, he trusts his instincts, and it just didn't work out tonight."
With the score still 3-2 in the top of the eighth, Pujols, who usually plays well off the bag at first base, dove to his right to field a slow roller hit almost directly at second baseman Howie Kendrick. What could've been a 4-3 groundout resulted in an infield single for Michael Young. The next batter, Nelson Cruz, doubled off the right-field wall against Garrett Richards to add an insurance run. And three batters later, Geovany Soto hit a two-run homer off Jordan Walden to make it a 6-2 game.
Scioscia, who took Williams out after 43 pitches, put the blame on Richards for allowing Young to reach to start the inning.
"Garrett broke late to the bag; that's what caused it," Scioscia said. "Right-side defense, that ball is hit, he breaks over assuming he has to cover first until the defense either rotates back or the first baseman gets the ball and the pitcher is at the bag. Garrett was late reacting, and it cost him."
Wilson was off his game, and it was evident in a first inning that saw him throw 17 of his 28 pitches for balls. The Rangers somehow didn't score in that frame, despite loading the bases, but they did in the top of the third. Ian Kinsler led off with a single, Elvis Andrus brought him home with a triple off the center-field wall, Young brought Andrus in with an RBI double and, two batters later, Mike Napoli hit a two-out double to left field to make it a 3-0 game and abruptly end Wilson's start.
"We know C.J. knows we're a very aggressive bunch of guys," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Tonight, we made him throw the ball in the strike zone. Michael, Soto, Napoli, all those guys did a great job. They made him get in counts and he had to come in with a pitch."
Wilson needed 66 of them to record eight outs. Over his last two starts against the Rangers, he has combined to give up 11 runs on 14 hits and six walks in eight innings. His ERA in five starts against his former team this season is 7.65.
The Rangers were without their two biggest threats in Beltre (abdominal discomfort) and Hamilton (vision issues). But, as Wilson said, "My biggest issue hasn't been particular hitters or anything like that, it's more that I'm my own worst enemy. At least I have been the last couple months."
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.