Five losses damaged Angels' 2012 season

Five losses damaged Angels' 2012 season

ANAHEIM -- "Just one of 162" is a sort of mantra in the Majors. The baseball season is arduous and repetitive, each day providing either an opportunity for redemption or a necessary dose of humility. That's why players strive to stay even-keeled, never getting too pumped over wins or too down over losses. Simply wash, rinse and repeat.

But certain games -- good and bad -- tend to linger. And for the 2012 Angels, whose streaky season ended four wins shy of the American League's final playoff spot, that was no different. They started 18-25, recovered by going 30-13 heading into the All-Star break, back-pedaled once more with a 14-22 record to begin the second half and won 27 of their last 40 games.

The result was 73 defeats -- one fewer than a Tigers team that's heading to the World Series -- but still not good enough to sniff the postseason.

Five of those losses stood out.

Not surprisingly, two came in Texas. Surprisingly, one came in Kansas City. And predictably, most of them included critical hiccups by the bullpen, the greatest hindrance of the Angels' season.

April 26 at Tropicana Field: Rays 4, Angels 3

It's hard to imagine a damaging loss coming so soon, but it was a snapshot of the early season struggles that ultimately cost the Angels at the end: Lackluster offense, unreliable bullpen. The Angels mustered only three runs on seven hits against Matt Moore and a few Rays relievers, but held a one-run lead entering the ninth thanks in large part to a solid start by Jerome Williams.

But the Rays' Brandon Allen -- making his second plate appearance since being claimed off waivers a week earlier -- hit a walk-off two-run homer off Jordan Walden, handing the Angels their 13th loss in their first 19 games. With that, Walden lost the closer's job, ultimately for good.

After a loss in Cleveland the next day, Bobby Abreu was released in order to make room for Mike Trout. A couple weeks later, with the offense continuing to struggle, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was dismissed.

Aug. 1 at Rangers Ballpark: Rangers 11, Angels 10 (10 inn.)

This may have been the most gut-wrenching loss of the season, even though the Angels would bounce back and play good baseball once more. Just think about all they would've gained with a victory on this Wednesday night in Arlington: Wins in the first three of a four-game set against the Rangers and two games back in the AL West to represent their shortest deficit in nearly four months.

Instead, the Angels lost in the toughest way possible.

They led by six after four innings, then by two heading into the eighth and held a one-run lead in the ninth before Ian Kinsler hit the game-tying homer. After the Angels tacked on three more in the top of the 10th -- on a solo homer by Chris Iannetta and a two-run shot by Albert Pujols -- Ernesto Frieri and Jason Isringhausen coughed up four runs and the game in the bottom half.

"It broke my heart," Torii Hunter said. The Angels would lose 12 of their next 17.

Aug. 18 at Angel Stadium: Rays 10, Angels 8

The Angels were quite the tease for most of the season, showing flashes of the great team they can be just before falling flat once again. It was as if everyone kept waiting for the one moment that would lead to uninterrupted success.

In many ways, this Saturday game in Anaheim felt like the time. Pregame, the Angels held a rousing ceremony to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 championship team, and they held an 8-0 lead through the first three innings, looking well on their way to a much-needed victory after dropping five of their previous seven contests.

Instead, they sunk to a new low.

C.J. Wilson -- in a start characteristic of the struggles that plagued him for most of the second half -- gave up seven runs in the fifth inning, the bullpen gave up three more in the next three and the offense never scored again. The loss dropped the Angels to eight games back in the AL West, moved them to 5-12 in August and prompted their second team meeting of the homestand. They finished 1-9 against the Rays.

Sept. 15 at Kauffman Stadium: Royals 3, Angels 2

By this point, the Angels were playing much better baseball but couldn't make up much ground. They had won 17 of their previous 23, but only went from four to 2 1/2 games back of the second AL Wild Card spot. Every loss, no matter the opponent, was critical.

In the middle of this three-game weekend series in Kansas City, Frieri -- in many ways the bullpen savior this season -- turned a two-run lead into a walk-off loss in four pitches.

Zack Greinke kept the Royals scoreless through eight, but after giving up a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth, he was taken out after throwing 109 pitches. Frieri's first pitch to Billy Butler was hit out for a game-tying two-run homer. Then, his 1-1 fastball to Salvador Perez was skied off the left-field foul pole for the walk-off loss.

Almost the exact scenario would play out five days later against the Rangers.

Sept. 30 at Rangers Ballpark (Game 2): Rangers 8, Angels 7

The Angels knew what they had to do going into this Sunday doubleheader: Sweep the Rangers.

Early on, they were in good shape. The Angels won the first game, 5-4, on Hunter's two-out, two-run, ninth-inning double, then took a four-run lead in the first inning of the nightcap. At that point, the A's had yet to win, making it possible that the Angels could head into the regular season's final series just one game back in the AL Wild Card race.

But their dreams quickly evaporated.

The Rangers' Mike Napoli, the offensive-minded catcher who has haunted the Angels since they traded him two offseasons ago, led a tirade against right-hander Ervin Santana, hitting two homers and ultimately driving in six runs to hand the Angels a back-breaking defeat. With that, the Rangers clinched a playoff spot and the Angels, after an eventual win by the A's, dropped to three games back with three to play.

The next day, they were mathematically eliminated.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.