ANAHEIM, Calif. - A changeup to the No. 9 hitter in the second inning was the difference Thursday night. Had David Price thrown the pitch where he wanted, down in the strike zone, he felt he would have gotten a swing and a miss or a ground ball. And with the bases-loaded and one out, a ground ball was what Price wanted.
Instead, Price hung the pitch and Collin Cowgill lined it to left-center field for a bases-clearing double and all the runs the Angels would need for a 6-2 victory at Angel Stadium.
Just like that, the Rays' two-game winning streak, modest as it was, was over.
Their lead over the Yankees in the American League wild-card standings remains at 2 1/2 with 24 games to play. But the Orioles and Indians both moved to within three games of the Rays.
The Rays are 6 ˝ games behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League East standings, the farthest they've been out of first place since July 5.
The Rays are 2-5 on this 10-game road trip that continues tonight in Seattle after splitting the four-game series with the Angels.
“The two games that we won we played well, and the two games that we lost we didn't. That's as simple as it gets,” Evan Longoria said. “Actually, we swung the bats. It's not like we gave games away offensively. We just didn't do enough in the games that we lost. It wasn't for lack of opportunities. I thought we had opportunities to win. We're just not doing it.”
The Rays were held to only six hits Thursday by Angels starter Jerome Williams, who snapped a 13-start winless streak with the victory.
The surprise was Price, who was knocked around in the first three innings before settling down in the fourth.
That Price was able to go seven innings after giving up six runs on a season-high 11 hits through three innings was a huge savings on the bullpen.
“Eleven runs and six hits in three innings is rough,” Price said.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Price pitched well consider the early damage.
“He was just missing early then he really settled in and pitched extremely well after that,” Maddon said. “It was just in the beginning of the game he was off with his off-speed stuff.”
The six runs were the most Price has allowed since he allowed eight on April 7 to the Indians.
“I felt good. Just didn't make pitches there,” Price said. “I made pitches in the first inning to get out of the first and third, nobody out. Didn't do in the second and third and they made me pay. That's how it is. You got to be able to make pitches, and I just didn't do that.”
Price allowed a leadoff double to Erick Aybar to start the first inning. Chris Iannetta followed with a single and the Angels had runners on the corners, no outs and Mike Trout at the plate.
Price pitched himself out of the jam when he struck out Trout and got Mark Trumbo to hit into a double play.
But his troubles continued in the second inning when the Angels loaded the bases on three singles, the last a chopper to third by Grant Green that gave Longoria fits. Longoria didn't want to charge the ball and risk playing the short hop but staying back allowed Josh Hamilton, who was on second, to beat Longoria to the bag.
“Just a weird play,” Longoria said. “I trust that David, like he's done so many times, has the ability to get out of those jams and I didn't want to cause further damage without giving him a chance to get out of it.”
But Price didn't. With the count 2-2, Price elevated a change-up to Cowgill and the Angels left-fielder drove it to deep left-center field.
“I got to make better pitches in the count,” Price said, “or when I get two strikes on somebody I got to be able to make better pitches.”
James Loney's two-out, two-run double in the third inning cut the Angels lead to 3-2.
“We get back to 3-2, you're feeling pretty good about it,” Maddon said. “They put up a three-spot and that kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
The Angels went to work on Price in the third inning, scoring that game-deciding three spot on the strength of five hits.
With the Rays offense struggling against Williams, that was more than enough for the Angels right-hander and three relievers to finish the job.
“I think definitely we're trying way too hard, and I'm doing everything I possibly can to not have them do that,” Maddon said of the Rays' offense. “They care. They care too much. They want this so badly, but sometimes you just have to permit it to happen. You just have to go out and play the game, not over-think it, not over-do it.”
Longoria's fifth-inning single was the last of the night for the Rays.
And while everyone agrees the batters are pressing and the offense is scuffling – “I think they kind of go hand-in-hand. If you're pressing it's really hard to play the kind of game that you know you can play,” Longoria said – and Maddon is trying his best to keep things loose, Maddon did say it was time for the offense to pick a starting pitcher who is off his game.
“At some point,” Maddon said, “the offense has to win a game when the other team scores six or seven runs.”