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OAK@LAA: Santiago allows one run over seven frames

ANAHEIM -- Ernesto Frieri's 95-mph fastball caught too much of the plate, and John Jaso crushed it way over the right-field scoreboard for the two-run homer that ruined a lights-out start from Hector Santiago, a brilliant night from Albert Pujols, and what could've been a nice win against the Angels' pesky division rivals.

"It was a mistake pitch," Frieri said late Monday night, after what was instead a crushing 3-2 loss to the A's. "I was trying to go down and away, I left the cutter up, and the ball went into his hands."

And then it went into the stands, denying the Angels a chance to go above .500 for the first time since Opening Day 2013. The A's have won seven of their previous eight overall, giving them an American League-best 9-4 record, and 14 of their last 20 against the Angels in Anaheim.

Leading by a run in the top of the ninth, after seven innings of one-run ball from Santiago, the A's got a leadoff single from Josh Donaldson. Then, after Frieri retired Yoenis Cespedes on a flyout to center, Jaso -- with a career .936 OPS against the Angels -- replaced Derek Norris and crushed a 1-2 fastball.

Down in the count, 1-0, Frieri threw Jaso a changeup to even the count, then came with back-to-back fastballs that the A's catcher fouled off.

"I was thinking he would go back to offspeed," Jaso said. "He threw me another heater, and it looked really good to hit."

Hank Conger was set up low and away, but Frieri's fastball -- his best pitch, even despite adding a successful slider and changeup this spring -- stayed right down the middle for his first blown save of the season.

Nineteen of Frieri's 25 pitches that inning, which ended with only one out recorded, were fastballs.

"He didn't move the fastball around like he can, and Jaso fouled some off until he got a ball right in his zone and didn't miss it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Ernie's aggressive, and tonight they got him."

Scioscia seemed more frustrated with a call against second baseman Howie Kendrick in the next half-inning. With one out against Luke Gregerson, Kendrick hit a ground ball to second baseman Nick Punto, who initially bobbled the ball before gathering himself and throwing to a fully extended Daric Barton. First-base umpire Chris Segal ruled Kendrick out, and after reviewing the play for more than three minutes, umpires -- without enough conclusive evidence to overturn -- ruled that the call stands.

Scioscia admitted that "the original call has some weight," but believed Kendrick was "clearly safe."

"I think I was safe," Kendrick said, "especially seeing the replay on the [scoreboard]."

Pujols hit a first-inning RBI single off A's right-hander Jesse Chavez -- for just his second hit in 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position -- and then blasted a third-inning solo shot to left-center field, his fourth on the season and the 496th of his career. Then, with one out and one on in the eighth, he sprawled to his right to snag a hard grounder off the bat of Jed Lowrie and start a 3-6-3 double play that temporarily kept a one-run lead intact.

"It's part of the game," Pujols said of his previous struggles with runners in scoring position. "We'll see at the end of the season how many [RBIs] I'm going to have."

Santiago, acquired along with Tyler Skaggs in the December deal that sent Mark Trumbo to the D-backs, gave up eight runs while compiling only 9 1/3 innings in his first two starts of the season. But he scattered just five hits in a season-high seven frames Monday, didn't issue a single walk through the first six innings, gave up only a fourth-inning solo homer to Cespedes, and worked his way out of some tough jams in the sixth and seventh.

The loss soured it, but it was the type of encouraging outing the 26-year-old left-hander badly needed.

"Definitely; there's no doubt," Santiago said after lowering his ERA from 7.71 to 4.96. "Coming into today, I was like, 'I need some positive [momentum] moving forward.'"

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