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HOU@LAA: Blanton strikes out 11 over eight innings

ANAHEIM -- The Angels had another one of those team meetings Monday night.

It was about that time.

Four days earlier, they had just won 10 games in a stretch of 12, their grueling season finally turning a corner, and then, as manager Mike Scioscia said, "a switch flipped off." The Angels were just swept in a four-game series by the last-place, $21 million payroll Astros, totaling eight runs and losing the finale, 2-1, to drop to eight games below .500.

Moments later, Scioscia huddled his team for a chat. And though nobody was in the mood to share details of what went on behind closed doors, Albert Pujols put on a smile and tried his best to keep the tone positive.

"You guys are treating this like it's the last game of the season or we're out of the playoffs," he said. "You still have a lot of games left. Obviously you didn't think we'd catch another tough break like this, but it happens, man. That's part of the game."

The Astros, 21-37 despite reeling off six straight victories, have gone 7-3 against the Angels this season. Their starting pitchers have a 1.85 ERA against them.

Against everybody else, it's 6.29.

Erik Bedard entered Monday night with a 5.32 ERA in 44 innings, then proceeded to pitch seven innings of one-run ball, putting only three runners in scoring position, making Joe Blanton -- three hits, 11 strikeouts in eight innings -- the touch-luck loser and following up on what Jordan Lyles, Bud Norris and Dallas Keuchel did before him.

"It's nice to win," Bedard said after his first since Aug. 12 of last year. "We played great. We had some good starting pitching, and that's what you need to win ballgames."

The Angels have had that, too, their much maligned rotation posting a 2.67 ERA over the last 15 games. But their offense has hit a lull, on the heels of their hottest stretch. Seven days ago, the Angels had totaled five or more runs for the eighth straight game. Now, they can hardly score against a team with the worst pitching-staff ERA in the Majors.

What's going on?

"I wish I could tell you," said Pujols, who went 0-for-4 and is batting .243. "We're not getting the big hits that we've been getting for the last week or so, and obviously they pitched us really well. You look on the other side and say, 'How can these guys beat us four times?' But it's part of the game. They pitched us well and they caught more breaks than we did."

Blanton notched his third straight quality start, giving up only two runs while tying his career high in strikeouts and issuing no walks for the third straight start.

Blanton has given up seven runs in 21 1/3 innings over his last three starts, dropping his ERA from 6.62 to 5.53. But his loss total is at nine -- tied for the Major League lead -- because the Angels have scored fewer than three runs for him on six occasions. Five times, Blanton has notched a quality start and been the losing pitcher.

"It's baseball," said Blanton, who held the Astros hitless for the first 4 2/3 innings. "It's not like they're not trying to [score runs]. I'm trying to go out and win ballgames, and sometimes that happens."

Trailing by one with two outs in the ninth, Alberto Callaspo got a ground-rule double on a short-hop that bounced off first baseman Chris Carter and into the stands, and Josh Hamilton -- out of the starting lineup to clear his head -- drew a pinch-hit walk.

But pinch-hitter Hank Conger then struck out looking against Jose Veras. With that, the Angels suffered their 12th one-run defeat of the season and lost for only the fifth time in 10 seasons when allowing three hits or fewer.

And then, it was time for a meeting.

"You want to keep the focus and the approach where it needs to be," Scioscia said, when asked why he felt one was necessary. "We obviously didn't play well these last four games, we're a better team, and I think we're going to get there."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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