With just two months and a shade over 50 games remaining on the schedule, the last thing the Angels need is another injury to a key player, but that was the case when Darin Erstad left Thursday's game after six innings with a right hip strain.
Just a day earlier, the Angels decided to place Jarrod Washburn on the disabled list and, while they were able weather that bit of news by winning Wednesday night, there was no similar recovery Thursday afternoon as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Orioles and lost an opportunity to sweep their first series in a month.
Erstad's injury does not appear to be serious and the first baseman is listed as day-to-day, but it was bad enough for him to opt out midway through a game, which goes against his very grain.
"I twisted my left ankle when I stepped on the mound and it got jammed pretty good," Erstad said of the play in the second inning when he ran across the diamond and stumbled slightly over the mound before catching the popup by Javy Lopez on the third-base side. "The ball was in no-man's land. I've got the biggest glove, so I figured I was the guy to catch it."
Erstad said the hip began to spasm and made it difficult to play in the field. In the third, he made an error when he tried to backhand a ground ball by Jay Gibbons, a play he said he flat-out missed and should have made.
That eventually led to a pair of unearned runs when shortstop Orlando Cabrera lost a ball in the sun as left fielder Garret Anderson looked on. Cabrera couldn't handle a shallow popup in left field off the bat of Eric Byrnes, who was credited with a two-run triple.
The Orioles took a 2-0 lead on the play and never looked back in winning under new interim manager Sam Perlozzo, who replaced Lee Mazzilli earlier in the day.
"In that situation, you just have to scrap and make something happen," Byrnes said. "I knew, because I was playing left field, how bad the sun was."
It proved to be a tough break for Angels starter Ervin Santana, who battled back from a leadoff single by B.J. Surhoff and Erstad's two-base error to retire the next two batters. When he coaxed Byrnes into the pop fly, he appeared out of the jam, but Cabrera raced out away from the play, and the ball glanced off his glove as Anderson trotted in.
"It was a long way for Garret to run," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Obviously the sun came into play on that play."
Santana (6-5), who has a rough time in daytime starts, also allowed a two-run homer to Sammy Sosa in the fourth to lose his first decision after three straight wins. The rookie allowed four runs, two earned, on four hits and two walks while striking out seven.
"I thought I pitched very good," Santana said. "My breaking balls were good and I located my fastball in the zone."
But it is the injury bug that may prove to be the club's toughest opponent. Washburn's transaction was the 18th time this season the Angels have used the DL and, while that is shy of the franchise record of 23 times in 1998 and 2000, the list is a veritable who's who of important Angels.
Vladimir Guerrero, Bengie Molina, Steve Finley, Dallas McPherson, Kelvim Escobar, Francisco Rodriguez and now Washburn have all spent time on the DL.
If Erstad misses much action, it could have an adverse affect on a lineup that was showing signs of life. Erstad batted third on Thursday for the fifth time in the last six games and scored the Angels' only run. After hitting a one-out triple in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to eight games, Erstad scored on a single by Guerrero.
As it was, the Angels fell back into their rut of not capitalizing. The Angels stranded 11 baserunners on the day and went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
"We had some opportunities," Scioscia said. "We had guys on base, but we didn't get the big hit to put it away."
Presented with the chance to deliver a blow was Finley, who had three at-bats Thursday, all with runners in scoring position, and came away with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to second base to show for it.
With two out and the bases loaded in the eighth and Finley's turn in the lineup due, Scioscia instead opted for right-handed-hitting Jose Molina to pinch-hit against left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan.
"I wanted to hit there. Who wouldn't want to hit there? But I don't make those decisions," Finley said.
Scioscia still believes Finley has the ability to deliver in the clutch, but recognizes the 40-year-old has not had his stroke for essentially the entire season.
"Fin is very frustrated; nobody is more frustrated than Fin," Scioscia said of his center fielder, who is hitting .229. "He can play this game and play it at a very high level. He has got to get at-bats and see pitches. When he does, he gets white-hot and can carry a club. The swing looks like it is there, but he is jumping at some balls."
The Angels won their first series in their last three and have the Devil Rays coming to town, but with the A's in hot pursuit, opportunities can't be wasted and injuries will only add to the pressure.
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.