The Angels may not have lost any of their 6 1/2-game lead over Seattle, but they do find themselves asking bullpen questions at a time of the year they would probably prefer not to. Shields, whose August struggles were uncharacteristic compared to years past, is looking for a solution.
"We need Shields in that mix somewhere," manager Mike Sciosica said. "Right now, we have to look at the best way to get to that end result. It's obvious that Scotty's not where he needs to be. Tonight, I think some of the inconsistency came back."
Shields entered the game with the Angels (80-55) protecting a 5-4 lead. There were signs that Shields was putting a dreadful month of August behind him by posting three consecutive scoreless outings. But the touch on his curveball left him early in the eighth inning, and soon he was struggling to throw his fastball where he wanted to.
Shields (3-5) gave up a leadoff single to Michael Young. Marlon Byrd lined out to center field, but Shields walked Brad Wilkerson and hit pinch-hitter Frank Catalanotto with a pitch.
Shields threw the first pitch to Blalock in the dirt before he battled back to even the count at 2-2. After Blalock fouled away two more pitches, Shields left a fastball middle-in for Blalock, who crushed the pitch to right field.
"The first pitch was a breaking ball and I didn't throw it anywhere near the plate," Shields said. "[When the count was] 2-2, a breaking ball was probably the right pitch, but I couldn't go 3-2. I was just trying to throw low fastballs and get him to hit into a double play."
Before the ball had landed in the right-field seats, Scioscia was on the way to the mound to remove Shields, who has an 11.91 ERA since Aug. 1 and suffered his fifth blown save of the season Sunday. The Angels could demote Shields from his eighth-inning role while he works on rediscovering the form that has made him one of the AL's top setup relievers in the last five years.
"We could consider a role change," Scioscia said. "We could work a little bit off the mound. There are a lot of things we're going to look at."
Justin Speier, who pitched one-third of an inning and lowered his ERA to 3.46, would be the primary candidate to resume a role he filled for a short time in August. That would push Chris Bootcheck into the seventh-inning role when the team has a lead.
"I don't know about that situation," Shields said. "That's Mike's call."
The Angels, who lost two of three against the last-place Rangers (63-74), saw their ninth-inning comeback fall short. Texas closer C.J. Wilson, after walking Vladimir Guerrero with the bases loaded to force in a run, struck out Garret Anderson, who checked his swing on a down-and-away slider to end the game.
The loss spoiled starter John Lackey's bid to become the first 17-game winner in the Major Leagues. Lackey, who needs four wins in his last five regular-season starts to win 20 games for the first time, gutted his way through 6 2/3 innings. He gave up a two-run home run to Ian Kinsler in the third inning and a two-run home run to Wilkerson in the sixth, but left the game leading, 5-4.
Lackey allowed four runs on six hits, while striking out eight and walking two.
The Angels had built a one-run lead with a two-run home run from Jeff Mathis in the third. Orlando Carbera had an RBI double in the fifth and Anderson added a two-run bloop single later in the inning off starter Kason Gabbard. Wes Littleton (3-1) earned the victory with two scoreless relief innings.
The Angels will try to find the solution to Shields' struggles. He insists he's healthy, and the velocity indicates that he is. Shields said that he does not think that it is mechanical or mental. Blalock, who was playing in his first game since May 18 because of a 60-day disabled list after undergoing shoulder surgery, said Shields looked the same.
"To tell you the truth," Blalock said "I think his stuff looked about the same as it has in the past."
The Angels, too, would like to find the Shields of the past.