I don’t mind telling you, I now hate the Angels. Other shitty baseball teams have the grace and good manners to politely recede into the background as the regular season grinds through August. When is the last time you thought about the Diamondbacks? There are all the normal ways that bad teams suck and lose, which are instructive early in the season for understanding the lay of the land and setting expectations, but which require zero close attention come Tomato Time. A given bad team’s particular badness usually becomes a burden for that team’s poor perverted fans to quietly bear as summer drags to an end. When someone puts a Tigers or Pirates or Nationals update into our company Slack, it is understood as a mindless compulsion or as a goof, and in either case no one is really expected to earnestly engage with it.
But these damn Angels simply will not quit forcing their way into view. Every third day it’s some new spectacle of gruesome self-immolation, so that more and more we have to engage with them as an ongoing tragedy, like the alarming decline of a child star. I for one am sick of it! There is enough to be bummed about in the world without the damn Los Angeles Angels turning the back half of the season into some sort of humanitarian crisis.
Monday night’s loss was perhaps their saddest yet. I do not want to be talking about this! The Angels entered the ninth inning tied at two with the visiting Mariners. Outfielder Sam Haggerty, whose unexpected development into a pesky contact hitter par excellence has made him into something of a Seattle folk hero, punched a one-out single up the middle off of Angels reliever Aaron Loup. This brought Carlos Santana to the plate. Loup’s first pitch to Santana, an 84-mph cutter, was low and inside and bounced away from catcher Max Stassi. Haggerty, who is quick enough on the bases to have been used 19 times as a pinch-runner in 107 MLB games, did not take off from first. This appears not to have mattered too much to Stassi, who plucked the ball from the grass, wheeled hurriedly, and fired a liner into shallow right-center. Haggerty moseyed into second base. To punctuate the ominous sense of escalating chaos, Angels outfielder Magneuris Sierra needlessly chucked the ball to third baseman Jose Rojas, the second time in approximately five seconds that an Angel uncorked a long, risky throw to beat a runner who was standing still.
Two pitchers later, perhaps emboldened by the palpable aura of panic gripping the home side, Haggerty successfully swiped third on a Loup changeup. Loup then threw consecutive cutters far off the plate inside, and put Santana on first, where he was replaced by pinch-runner Dylan Moore. Extremely fucking insanely cool rookie Julio Rodriguez came to the plate and laid off a pair of hard inside pitches to get to a 2–0 count. Loup’s third pitch of the at-bat was a grooved sinker, and Rodriguez hit an absolute missile of a liner directly at Luis Rengifo, stationed just to the right of second base. It was all Rengifo could do to knock the ball down, where it squirted back onto the infield grass, eliminating any chance of a conventional double-play. Rengifo, to his credit, kept his cool and fired to Stassi, putting Haggerty, who’d foolishly sprinted away from third when Rengifo dropped the liner, into the deepest of shit.
I’m sure there are all kinds of nuances to orchestrating a proper rundown in different circumstances—there is probably a way to do it so that Haggerty is neutralized and Moore is deterred from chugging around second and gaining an extra station—but the main thing is that a rundown overwhelmingly advantages the defense, and wiping out the lead runner is a mighty fine consolation for failing to convert Rodriguez’s liner into its expected outcome. To make this work and keep a run off the board, at least one Angels player other than Stassi and Rojas needed to process that a rundown was underway and make a respectable effort to participate. Unfortunately for the Angels, that did not happen.
Loup, the next closest player to home plate, stumbled and fell over. Jared Walsh, frozen in confusion, stayed rooted at first base as the action flipped to the opposite end of the diamond. Rengifo and shortstop Andrew Velazquez both made an effort to stay in the play, but by running side-by-side toward third base. As a consequence of all this disorganization, when Stassi made his inevitable throw to Rojas, there was no longer anyone in an Angels uniform anywhere close to home, the one spot the Angels needed most desperately to protect.
Naturally you are now thinking, “Oh wow, they gave up the go-ahead run on a busted rundown in the ninth, those idiots.” My friend, settle in, for we have not covered even a third of the “those idiots” part of this game. Two pitches later, with runners on first and third, Ty France tapped a tailor-made double-play grounder toward Velazquez. Velazquez, for reasons known only to him, declined the inning-ending double-play and fired home, but at least his throw was in time and on target, comfortably beating Moore to the plate. Stassi, whose job title is “catcher” and who is paid to crouch behind home plate and catch the ball 100-plus times a game, simply failed to catch the ball. Moore scored on the play, the ball rocketed all the way to the backstop, and Rodriguez and France moved up to third and second, respectively.
We are not done! Two pitches later, Jesse Winker smacked a hard grounder directly at Rojas, playing well in on the infield grass for expressly the purpose of taking away run-scoring opportunities. Here at last was an instance where the expected outcome of the play was a throw home to nab the lead runner. Did Rojas make the play? He did not. In his haste to rotate for a throw home, Rojas forgot to pick up the ball, so that by the time he finally secured it the only remaining play was to first base. Rodriguez came in to score and put the Mariners up three runs. Here’s the whole nightmare sequence, starting with the failed rundown:
I have not yet even mentioned the worst part of this. Shohei Ohtani, whose nigh-weekly historic feats have been wasted by the Angels for the better part of five years now, started on the mound Monday night, struck out eight Mariners in six innings of two-run ball, and added an infield single in the eighth before being stranded on third base. Aren’t you happy to have learned this? Now, in addition to bewilderment and disgust at the team’s defensive ineptitude, you are also feeling sad. Great! Thanks for enriching our lives in this way, Angels, you assholes.