- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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BOSTON -- When games get close, with an outcome riding on the slightest flinch, somebody on the other team always seems to make a great play and somebody on the Los Angeles Angels always seems to foul something up.
Yeah, it's one of those years.
The Angels played a key series against the Texas Rangers last month when each game seemed to boil down to a play in the field that either was or wasn't made. Texas made them, the Angels didn't. Now, with both teams struggling in tandem, the Rangers don't have to pay much attention to what the Angels are doing.
It came down to that late Wednesday night in Boston, when Daniel Nava dashed in to make a diving catch in left field in the eighth inning to preserve the Boston Red Sox's ninth straight win over the Angels, 7-5. The next half-inning, Angels first baseman Mike Napoli was peeking at a runner at third and neglected to glove a sharply hit grounder that squirted into right field that drove in an important extra run for struggling closer Jonathan Papelbon.
An accumulation of details has gone against the Angels this year, one of their many annoyances. The upshot is a season that has drifted far from where many people expected it to be, especially inside the clubhouse.
"We're just not playing good baseball," pitcher Scott Kazmir said. "It's a surprise, and it also isn't a surprise, when we see the way we're playing out there. I think we're a lot better than what we're showing out there."
There was a long pause, and then Kazmir continued with what might be the best advice the Angels could get with 41 games left, stuck under .500 and tied for second place with the Oakland A's.
"At this point, you've just got to keep going, fighting through it," Kazmir said. "See what happens, just let it go, let loose."
They certainly haven't played well under pressure, so maybe if they loosen up things will start to happen for them. Then again, the evidence suggests they're just not very good. Manager Mike Scioscia bristled a bit when it was pointed out that Nava's play seems to fit a pattern this season in which the other team makes key plays in the clutch while the Angels don't.
"We made great plays, too," Scioscia said. "[Alberto] Callaspo at third base, he was a highlight reel tonight. We squashed a couple of their rallies. It was obviously an important play that late in the game, but you should be able to play at a high enough level where you're not looking for a break to win the game. Some things got away from us on the pitching mound."
He's got a point there. Specifically, a bunch of pitches got away from Kazmir, who reverted to his inefficient ways struggling through five laborious innings. Two key pitches got away from reliever Kevin Jepsen with the game on the line in the seventh.
Things began to wobble when Victor Martinez dribbled a ball up the third-base line and narrowly beat Callaspo's throw. They were rattling by the time David Ortiz reached across the plate to flick a double off the Green Monster, something he seemingly does at will.
That seemed to tick off Jepsen, who struck out Adrian Beltre on three pitches, the last of which was a 97-mph fastball. That's when Jepsen tried to get a little too fine. He walked Mike Lowell and, with the bases loaded, tried to snap off a curveball to pinch hitter J.D. Drew. He did, but the ball bounced five feet in front of home plate for a wild pitch. Jepsen hit Nava in the back with a pitch, forcing in another run.
That sequence initiated ... yes, you've got it: frustration. It's the Angels' pet emotion this year.
"It's very frustrating. You feel great. You feel like your stuff's there. It's just part of the game," Jepsen said.
By the numbers
Napoli mashed his 20th home run in the third inning, giving him three straight seasons with 20 home runs. In major league history, only 18 players whose primary position is catcher have hit 20 homers three straight seasons.
Another record is muddled. Napoli has split time between catching and playing first base this season. The Angels' record for home runs by a catcher is 22, set by Lance Parrish. That team record may not be in jeopardy, because only 12 of Napoli's home runs have come while he was playing catcher.
Quote of the day
"I think things are going to turn around. I know you've been hearing that all year." -- Howie Kendrick on the Angels' season.
Before this series began, Thursday looked to be the Angels' best chance to win a game here. Josh Beckett (3-2, 6.51 ERA) has been shaky when he hasn't been hurt and Ervin Santana (12-8, 3.99) has been the Angels' second-best starting pitcher.
Santana has won his past two starts and four of his past five, pitching at least six innings in nine of his past 10. In his most recent start, Beckett blew a six-run lead against Texas, a game Boston lost in extra innings.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
The Angels simply aren't making the plays needed when it matters most.