Then one pitch revealed just how cruel and unforgiving the sport can be. Reliever Justin Speier's fateful fastball, intended for the inside corner, ended up smack in the middle of the plate, hitting the sweet spot of Evan Longoria's bat and sailing over the left-field fence for a two-run homer and a 2-0 Tampa Bay victory.
"I just didn't have my location today," said Speier. "I made a bad pitch, and he got a good swing on it, and that's going to happen over the course of the season."
Speier said that he knew instantly that Longoria's hit was destined to become the game-winner.
"Sometimes you know, sometimes you don't know, but I knew right away on this one," he said. "Unfortunately, we didn't score any runs for [starter Jon Garland]. He pitched a heck of a game."
He certainly did. Garland, who has struggled in his previous few starts, scattered four hits en route to eight scoreless innings -- his first shutout outing this season. Unfortunately, his performance was negated just one inning later by Longoria's homer.
"I always want to stay in," Garland said of the possibility of finishing the game. "I'm not the manager; they are not my decisions. I believe I was over 100 pitches, and you get fresh arms out of the bullpen that are more capable of getting the job done."
The right-hander threw 119 pitches, whereas Rays starter James Shields tossed only 92 in his complete-game effort. Although Garland said that he peeked at his pitch count around the seventh inning, he doesn't give the number much thought.
"As long as I'm getting outs, to me it doesn't matter," he said. "I'm trying to keep the ball down. They laid off what I thought was a lot of good pitches and ran me through some deep counts."
Unfortunately for Garland, the Rays' patience at the plate paid off. After eight innings of a pitching staredown, Garland blinked first, giving up a leadoff double to Gabe Gross. Although he followed that with three consecutive groundouts, manager Mike Scioscia decided it was time to make the call to the bullpen.
"I really liked [Garland's] stuff," Scioscia said. "I thought his command got better as the game went on. Although they weren't getting a lot of action, he was burning a lot of pitches to get there."
Shields, on the other hand, was burning holes through the Angels' bats. The right-hander pitched his second complete game of the season and the fourth of his career, holding the Halos to just one hit. It marked the first time the Angels were held to one hit since Sept. 13, 2006, vs. Chicago.
"[Shields has] got a good fastball-changeup combo, located his fastball well [and] threw some offspeed on some off counts," Scioscia said. "He pitched a heck of a game.
"We've seen some games here and there, but that one would certainly stick out as one of the best games [from an opposing pitcher]," he added. "Unfortunately, when are you facing tough pitching every night ... Occasionally, you are going to get them on their game and they pitch well, and that's what Shields did tonight."
What made it even tougher for the Angels' batters was a lack of familiarity with the red-hot right-hander.
"We don't see him a lot," Garret Anderson said. "You see a guy maybe once a year who has an above-average pitch, that can be tough."
Anderson entered Friday's action with a home run in each of the club's previous three games, but like nearly every other Angel, he was set down by Shields, going 0-for-3. The lone hit was a single by Brandon Wood in the third inning.
"His changeup is obviously his out pitch," Anderson said. "When you throw a changeup in the zone, around the zone, it can cause some timing issues."
The club was dealt another blow when Erick Aybar left the game after being struck by a pitch on his left hand to begin the fourth inning.
Aybar was trying to square up and generate a spark for the struggling offense, and he was diagnosed with a bone contusion. Fortunately, the Angels may have dodged a bullet, as the initial X-rays were negative, and Scioscia said the shortstop's status would be made more clear on Saturday.
One thing that is clear is that the club won't use its injuries as a crutch for tough losses such as the one it took on Friday night.
"We're nicked up right now," Scioscia said. "It's extremely tight right now, there's not a lot we can do about it. We have a lot of confidence in the kids that come through the organization."
And no matter when the Angels get back their varsity team, the skipper said that the club will continue to hang tough and simply play baseball.
"We're playing well," he said. "We've got a lot of guys out, but what's left is still a good team."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less