- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jered Weaver came charging off the mound after the sixth inning, his right fist flailing wildly in the air. He was mouthing something and it appeared to be loud and it didn't appear to be a Dr. Seuss rhyme.
The temperature at the Ballpark in Arlington was 95 degrees when Thursday's game started. The steam coming off Weaver after the sixth inning had to be about twice that.
Given some time to cool down in the air-conditioned clubhouse after the Los Angeles Angels lost the first game of a crucial four-game series to the Texas Rangers 3-2 Thursday, Weaver was fairly diplomatic and composed. But he also implied that some plays should have been made in the Angels' outfield. He wasn't alone in that opinion.
"Some things didn't go my way there in the sixth inning or it could have been a little different game. We could be playing right now," Weaver said.
In most respects, Thursday's game felt nothing like a playoff game. The steamy temperature was a giveaway that it's still July, and the players didn't seem to be struggling with the same level of pressure October can exert. But in one regard, it did have an air of finality. This was the teams' two best pitchers hooking up, a key play or two deciding the outcome.
The Angels didn't make them. The Rangers did. And the ability to catch the ball might be the biggest difference between these teams right now. The Rangers have young athletes at virtually every position. The Angels are wobbly on the corners, both infield and outfield. The divide in athleticism -- and maybe just talent -- between the Angels and Rangers is a bigger problem for the Angels than the six-game deficit in the standings. That, too, is a problem. The Angels haven't been this far out all season.
In the outfield, it's not even close. Vladimir Guerrero led off that sixth inning by doing something he often does, hitting a virtually unhittable pitch. It was four inches outside and low. He flicked it into right field.
Fine, that's Vlad. But Weaver and Torii Hunter both agreed he should have been held to a single. Bobby Abreu, 36, charged it hesitantly and Guerrero just kept chugging. Abreu looked surprised and his throw to second wasn't in time.
"Obviously, he hustled out there and turned what I thought was a single into a double," Weaver said.
The next batter, Josh Hamilton sliced a ball into left center. According to Weaver, he "popped a changeup up." Juan Rivera lumbered -- or was it jogged? -- after it and Hunter couldn't catch it after a lengthy sprint from right-center. It dropped into the gap for what proved to be the winning RBI.
"Some balls dropped that probably shouldn't have dropped," Hunter said.
The difference between Weaver and Cliff Lee at this stage of their careers is Lee pitches into the ninth inning virtually every start and Weaver struggles to get into the seventh most of the time. They have different styles -- Weaver needs more pitches for all his strikeouts -- but Lee's pitch efficiency allows him to control games, while Weaver is reliant upon the Angels' bullpen.
In the past, pitchers avoided the Ballpark in Arlington in droves. Nobody would want to pitch in a place where high pop-ups, fanned by hot winds, carry over fences. But that could change now that the Rangers play some of the best defense in baseball. Lee wasn't all that dominant Thursday and he still managed to get an out in the ninth inning with 99 pitches.
"They have a terrific defensive club with a lot of range, definitely in the outfield they do," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They don't necessarily depend on shrinking the field as much as some clubs because of their athleticism."
Before Guerrero left the Angels, the team's pitchers long wondered what it would be like to face him. They're finding it's not very fun. Weaver threw a slider that he estimated was three to four inches outside the strike zone and low, and Guerrero managed to turn it into a leadoff double.
Guerrero has made it part of his borderline Hall of Fame-caliber career.
"I don't know how he hit that pitch," Rangers second baseman Michael Young said.
Quote of the day
"I think we match up with them, we just haven't played to the level we need to." -- Scioscia on taking on the Rangers.
On Friday, the Angels get their first crack at pitcher C.J. Wilson, who made some inflammatory comments after a Texas loss at Anaheim on July 1.
"We're the better team, 100 percent," Wilson told a few Texas reporters. "When we play up to our capabilities, it might not even be that close. We have better balance to our team. They have good pitching. I'd rather take our offense. I'd much rather have our bullpen."
Wilson is right in at least one regard. The Angels' best hope for chasing down the Rangers is probably their starting rotation. It will be a lot deeper if Joe Saunders can somehow get back to his 2008 form -- or even the way he was pitching at the end of last season.
Saunders (6-9, 4.83 ERA) is winless in his last three starts though he has left with a lead in two of them. Ominously for the Angels, Saunders has been awful in Texas over his career. He's 0-5 with an 11.68 ERA in five starts.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com