ANAHEIM -- Nick Adenhart couldn't have been much better. The Angels' bullpen couldn't have been much worse. One thing led to another, Adenhart's string of six zeros turning into crooked numbers late, and the Athletics seized a 6-4 decision on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium with three runs in the eighth inning and three more in the ninth.
Victimized were all three of the Angels' late-inning specialists: Jose Arredondo, Scot Shields and, finally, Brian Fuentes. After the A's made it a one-run game with three against Arredondo and Shields, Fuentes twice was on the verge of closing out his 19th consecutive save dating to last season, one pitch away. But on each occasion it got away from the long, tall southpaw. Most galling for the Angels was the 35-foot dribbler by Kurt Suzuki with two outs and a runner aboard, Fuentes having walked Jason Giambi to open the inning -- his biggest mistake. The ball rolled off Suzuki's bat between the first-base line and the mound. Fuentes came down in a rush, and up came Mike Napoli like a fullback, from behind the plate. They met at the ball, Fuentes backed off, and when Napoli tried to pick it up, it slipped away. "I probably should have been a little more assertive on the dribbler," said Fuentes, making his second Angels appearance with predecessor Francisco Rodriguez toiling in New York for the Mets. "We kind of deked each other out. "I felt I could have made the play. It would have been a bang-bang play, but I've made it before. I didn't hear him, and we both got to the ball at the same time." Manager Mike Scioscia absolved both pitcher and catcher of blame. "That's nobody's play," the distinguished former catcher said. "You couldn't have rolled it out there any better. It was unfortunate the way it happened. They both got there at the same time and that ball was right in the seam." Suzuki was safe at first, and here came Nomar Garciaparra. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, he sent a slider toward left-center that Gary Matthews Jr., inserted for defensive purposes, couldn't reach. It fell for the tying single, and the fun was just starting for Oakland. "I thought that was a hit all the way, off the bat," Scioscia said. Next it was Mark Ellis finding a spot in the hole that not even shortstop Erick Aybar could cover with his remarkable range, the infield hit giving the A's the lead. Matt Holliday slashed an RBI single to right-center to finish it. Some boos were heard among 43,283 as the Angels came off the field, and Brad Ziegler kept them off the board for his second save in two nights. Asked about the bullpen's unraveling, Scioscia said he saw nothing to shake his belief in the three arms at the back end. "It's uncharacteristic of what those guys can do," Scioscia said. "One slipped away, but it won't happen very often. We're going to hold leads. We've got a lot of confidence we're going to hold leads. "They swung the bats well, over 30 hits [31, 15 on Wednesday] in a couple of games. They've had a good offensive approach and come back and won the ballgame. There's no lack of confidence in what our guys are going to do." What Adenhart accomplished shouldn't have been cast in the background, for it was a brilliant effort by a 22-year-old right-hander making his fourth Major League start. It was more than premium stuff -- mid-90s fastball, big curve, darting changeup -- from Adenhart. He showed his resolve, intelligence and adaptability in his season debut, repeatedly pitching out of jams across six scoreless innings. He caught Eric Chavez looking at a 3-2 curve during the first before retiring Suzuki to leave the bases loaded. Two more A's were stranded in the second, and a ground-ball double play took Adenhart out of a first-and-third, one-out predicament in the fourth. Two singles opened the fifth and a two-out walk gave Suzuki another shot with the bases full. Adenhart retired him on another ground ball. "It felt good to work out of some jams early," Adenhart said. "My curveball was really working for me, and then my change came on later when I needed it." In a direct departure from his nightmarish Major League debut against the A's last May, when they scored five times in two innings, he was confident and in command, 61 of his 98 pitches in the strike zone. A perfect sixth ended Adenhart's night: seven hits, three walks, five strikeouts and kudos from the manager. "I thought he pitched a terrific game," Scioscia said. "He gave us a chance to win. He has better tools out there now. He pitched ahead a lot and was able to get back in counts and put guys away." A three-run fourth against southpaw Dana Eveland gave Adenhart a cushion. Singles by Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales and Juan Rivera, produced one run. Napoli's double off Rajai Davis' glove in right center scored Morales, and Aybar's sacrifice fly delivered Rivera. In the seventh, Bobby Abreu's sacrifice fly cashed in Chone Figgins, who'd walked, stolen second and advanced on Suzuki's throwing error. A 4-0 lead seemed secure. The new, athletic A's had different ideas.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.