Angels drop opener to Blue Jays

Angels drop opener to Blue Jays

TORONTO -- The usual nine innings were played. But the game was ultimately decided after just the first frame.

Chone Figgins was picked off second base in the top of the first for the Angels. Then, starter Paul Byrd gave up a three-run home run to Toronto first baseman Shea Hillenbrand in the bottom half.

Combine those early miscues with a great outing by Toronto's Gustavo Chacin, and the Angels lost, 8-0, to the Blue Jays on Tuesday at the Rogers Centre.

"Anytime your team gets down 3-0 right off the get-go, it's not good," said Byrd, who pitched three-plus innings, his shortest start of the season. "I put us in a hole early and then couldn't answer later. It's frustrating for me."

The slider that Hillenbrand sent to left field for his 13th homer of the season might not have done the Angels (59-41) in had it not been for the baserunning lapse by Figgins in the opening minutes.

Figgins led off the game with a single to right, then moved to second when Chacin walked Darin Erstad. With Vladimir Guerrero at the plate, Figgins was increasing his lead off second when Chacin spun around and caught him off balance.

"It certainly was a huge swing as far as our ability to score in that inning," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "You've got the middle of your lineup coming up and you've already set the table for them. You're just hoping one of those guys is going to get the hit and you're going to get on the board."

Scioscia said that Figgins, who has a team-high 34 stolen bases, was not given the green light to take off for third base. Scioscia did note, though, that Figgins might have been given the go-ahead to run in a similar situation.

"[Figgins] was doing what he should do," Scioscia said. "He's trying to read, he's trying to time it, so that if there's a count where he's going to go, he's ready for it. He just happened to get caught on the wrong foot -- good quick throw and well timed."

The pickoff's implications became increasingly magnified as the game went on. Chacin (10-5) set down the next nine batters, and he only allowed two more runners to move into scoring position.

Scioscia couldn't help but be reminded of one of his former teammates with the Los Angeles Dodgers while Toronto's rookie southpaw was on the mound.

"[Chacin] pitched a terrific game. Anytime we had a count in our favor or had a chance to do something, he came up with a great pitch," Scioscia said. "He reminds me a little of a combination of Teddy Higuera and Fernando Valenzuela. There are a lot of intangibles he has on the mound, just from a first glance."

What was it about the 24-year-old Venezuelan that reminded Scioscia of Valenzuela, who the Angels skipper played with from 1980-90?

"I think a little bit of his arm angle," Scioscia said. "A little bit of his ability to ride that fastball and probably make it a little more than it is. He's able to give it a little more life by riding it up in the zone."

Chacin allowed six hits and struck out four as he tied a season high with eight innings pitched.

"He was right on tonight. That's probably the best I've seen him in a while," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He was just pounding that strike zone, pitch after pitch. He's capable of that, and it gives him his 10th win. He's having a heck of a rookie year."

"There are a lot of challenges in that lineup. They've got great team speed, they get on base a lot and they've been scoring a lot of runs."
-- Angels manager Mike Scioscia,
on the Blue Jays

Angels center fielder Steve Finley collected two singles against Chacin and moved into scoring position twice -- each time he was stranded by inning-ending ground outs. Chacin set down three straight batters in the seventh inning after Guerrero led off with a double.

"When you've never faced anybody like that, you can't expect that much," Figgins said. "You can watch video, but it's different than seeing live pitching. I guess he's a rookie. You tip your hat to him; he threw a good ballgame."

Byrd (9-7) allowed a season-high seven earned runs on 10 hits. He left the game in the fourth after giving up four straight hits that led to four runs in the inning.

"[The Blue Jays are] hot right now. It seems like if we played them to pull, they hit it the other way," Byrd said. "If we played them the other way, they pulled it. It was one of those things where a lot of things went wrong -- it wasn't just one thing.

"My strength is consistency and holding the other team at bay. I feel like I dropped the ball."

Kevin Gregg relieved Byrd in the fourth and pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

Toronto's Vernon Wells hit his 20th homer of the season off Angels reliever Joel Peralta in the eighth, which gave every Jays batter a hit in the game. Seven of the nine Toronto hitters scored.

"On the offensive side, you've got your hands full [with the Blue Jays]," Scioscia said. "There are a lot of challenges in that lineup. They've got great team speed, they get on base a lot and they've been scoring a lot of runs."

Jordan Bastian is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.