OAKLAND — Steve Cishek’s quick meltdown spoiled another strong outing for Shohei Ohtani.
After six scoreless innings from Ohtani, Cishek walked two and gave up a three-run home run in the seventh inning of the Angels’ 4-1 loss to the Oakland A’s on Monday night.
It was a critical loss for the Angels against the team they are chasing for the final playoff spot, with the days dwindling before the July 30 trade deadline. The Angels (46-47) are now 6½ games behind the A’s for the second American League wild-card spot.
“If we can get on a bit of a roll, it changes the narrative regarding what can happen before the end of the month or not,” Manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s just the way this game works.”
This loss was an all-too-predictable outcome on a couple of levels.
First, Cishek has had control issues all year. Despite coming into the game with a 2.83 ERA, he had walked an unsightly 5.4 hitters per nine innings.
He began his outing by walking Mitch Moreland and Matt Chapman on 11 pitches.
That brought up Angels-killer Ramon Laureano, whose eight homers against the Angels are his second-most against any team. He has three homers against the Angels this season, while going 9 for 27 (.333).
Ohtani had retired him twice, but Cishek couldn’t. Cishek threw a slider that hung over the middle of the plate, and Laureano blasted it over the left field fence to break open a scoreless game.
“It’s just part of life as a reliever,” Cishek said. “Some days you feel good. You feel like you can dot the ball anywhere. Some days it’s a grind. Today was one of those days. It’s unfortunate. You don’t feel good about it. Get back after it tomorrow.”
Cishek said he was pulling his slider, which is why he was missing the strike zone, and then he “overcorrected” on the fateful pitch to Laureano.
It was the first homer that Cishek had allowed in 46 innings, ending the longest active streak in the majors.
Cishek alone didn’t ruin Ohtani’s night, because the Angels still hadn’t scored any runs for him.
Oakland left-hander Cole Irvin had shut out the Angels on four hits through seven innings. The Angels wasted a double to lead off the game by David Fletcher, who got back on the board a day after his 26-game hitting streak ended.
In the third, Fletcher was trying to score from first on an Ohtani double to the warning track in center field.
Laureano, the center fielder, made a perfect throw to shortstop Elvis Andrus, whose relay to the plate was in time to nail Fletcher. The Angels challenged the play on the basis that catcher Sean Murphy was blocking the plate without the ball, but the call was upheld.
Beyond the bullpen and offensive issues was another outstanding start for Ohtani, who pitched for the first time since his perfect first inning at the All-Star Game last week.
Ohtani struck out eight and allowed one walk. He gave up three hits. He wasn’t as efficient as he could have been, so he was at 96 pitches when Maddon went to the bullpen.
Ohtani got into a couple of tight spots, but he escaped both with impressive sequences.
In the second, he gave up a one-out double to Moreland, but then he struck out Chapman and Laureano. He cranked his fastball up to 98 mph twice against Laureano.
An inning later, Ohtani walked No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp and then gave up a bloop double to Mark Canha, putting two in scoring position for the heart of the lineup. Ohtani struck out Andrus and he got fellow All-Star Matt Olson on a groundout.
“Special, very special man,” Maddon said of Ohtani’s performance. “He rose to the occasion again. Just inventive, game in progress, he started doing different things based on what he thought they may be expecting from him. His velocity was way up. Slider good. Cutter good. Eventually found the split at the very end. You saw the swings he got on the split at the end. Just another special performance on his part.”
It wasn’t enough though, as the deficit grew to 4-0 when Olson hit a homer against Alex Claudio. The Angels’ only run came on an RBI double by Brandon Marsh – one of his three hits in his second big league game – in the ninth.
Although Ohtani didn’t get the loss, he took some responsibility for the offensive outage because he was a part of the lineup too.
“As a pitcher, of course you want to have a good game and win the ballgame,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “That’s not aways going to happen. But I’m part of the lineup too, and today I was only able to get one hit.”