Escobar's 14 K's not enough for Halos

Escobar's 14 K's not enough

CINCINNATI -- In an amazing display of power and control, Kelvim Escobar threw 116 pitches on Tuesday night, 78 for strikes, 14 for third strikes.

One bad delivery among 116 is a ratio Sandy Koufax would applaud. But that one split-fingered fastball that didn't bite was enough to take the joy out of what should have been a festive occasion for the Angels right-hander in what became a 5-3 loss to the Reds in front of 23,153 at Great American Ball Park.

Josh Hamilton stroked that hanging splitter for a pivotal RBI double during a three-run fourth inning, and Escobar did not factor in the decision despite notching a career-high 14 strikeouts in six innings.

"I threw some good ones tonight," Escobar said of his killer splitter, which had hitters waving in vain as it dived into the dirt in front of catcher Mike Napoli. "You cannot be perfect."

Ken Griffey Jr.'s sacrifice fly in the seventh inning delivered the go-ahead run following singles by Scott Hatteberg and Brandon Phillips against losing pitcher Dustin Moseley (4-1). The Reds added an insurance run in the eighth when second baseman Erick Aybar booted a two-out grounder following a pair of singles.

The win went to Jon Coutlangus (3-1) in relief of Bronson Arroyo. David Weathers claimed his 13th save with four outs of relief -- the big one a fielder's choice grounder by Orlando Cabrera to finish the eighth with two runners on base.

The Angels slipped to 5-2 in Interleague Play, losing their second in a row, despite a homer, double and single from streaking Casey Kotchman, two more hits from smoldering Chone Figgins -- pushing his hitting streak to 11 games -- and a homer by Gary Matthews Jr.

Kotchman's eighth homer -- a 426-foot shot leading off the fourth -- and Figgins' RBI double after singles by Reggie Willits and Escobar had the Angels in front, 2-0, in the fourth against Arroyo.

His line-drive single to left was the second hit of Escobar's career, the first coming on June 8, 2003 when he pitched a four-hit shutout for Toronto in his first appearance at Great American Ball Park.

Escobar struck out eight hitters that night, meaning he has 22 strikeouts in 15 career innings in the hitter-friendly yard.

"I didn't try to do too much," Escobar said, "just what I'm capable [of doing]."

After the Reds managed to bunch three hits in the space of four batters to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the fourth, Matthews crushed his ninth homer, a 430-foot blast to right center, tying it in the fifth.

That was the last of the Angels' offense. Vlad Guerrero had a chance with two on and two out in the sixth, Figgins and Cabrera having singled, but he grounded sharply to third for a forceout. Guerrero is in the midst of an 0-for-13 dry spell.

Escobar's final inning was perfect, ending with two strikeouts. His career-high 14 strikeouts were the most by an Angels pitcher since Chuck Finley struck out 15 Yankees on May 23, 1995 in Anaheim.

"I punched out guys with all my pitches -- fastball, splits, sliders, changeup," Escobar said. "I'm disappointed, because we didn't get the W. You win as a team and lose as a team.

"In that [fourth] inning, I should have executed better. The one splitter [to Hamilton], I left it up in the zone, and he got a double. The only one I was disappointed with was the Hamilton split that stayed up."

Griffey and Adam Dunn singled opening the inning, Griffey scoring on Hamilton's double to right. Dunn scored from third on Alex Gonzalez's grounder to shortstop Cabrera, who threw to third, where Hamilton somehow contorted his body to avoid the tag by Figgins.

Hamilton scored on David Ross' squeeze bunt.

"A couple of plays defensively opened the door, and they took advantage," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They executed well defensively, and we didn't do the same. Kelv certainly put us in a position to win that game."

Escobar struck out the side in the first and again in the third, fanning a pair in each of the second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

His best work came in the fifth, after a walk to Hatteberg and double by Phillips. Griffey struck out, Dunn fouled out and Edwin Encarnacion struck out.

"These guys have a great club," Reds manager Jerry Narron said of the Angels. "They're one of the better teams in baseball -- very solid from top to bottom. They got great pitching, and you saw that from Escobar, coming out the way he did, striking out eight in the first three innings.

"Maybe we tired him out a bit. But we got some clutch hits and some great pitching."

Great pitching, on this occasion, wasn't enough for the Angels.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.