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There was no live chicken to sacrifice, and a bonfire of bats didn’t make sense, so in an effort to snap their two-week skid, the Angels all used the same band for their walk-up music — Nickelback — throughout Wednesday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox.
Who’s got next, “Buttercup?”
The attempt at a slump-buster did not work. The Angels failed to score against Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi and four relievers in a 1-0 loss in front of a crowd of 26,587 at Angel Stadium, extending their franchise-record losing streak to 14 games, with seven of those losses coming by one run.
“I don’t know whose idea it was, but I like it, I like Nickelback,” Phil Nevin said after his second game as interim manager in place of the fired Joe Maddon. “The entire game, I got a song in my head and can't stop singing. ... I mean, it was neat for a while.”
Boston scored the game’s only run in the sixth, an inning that began with Angels right-hander Jimmy Herget striking out Xander Bogaerts with a 75-mph curve and Trevor Story with a 92-mph fastball.
But Alex Verdugo kept the inning alive with a walk, and Bobby Dalbec sliced a 1-and-1 sinker into the right-field corner for a double that scored Verdugo from first for a 1-0 Red Sox lead.
Eovaldi gave up six hits in five scoreless innings, striking out five, and Tyler Danish (one inning), Jake Diekman (one inning), John Schreiber (1 1/3 inning) and Matt Strahm (final two outs) blanked the Angels the rest of the way to offset a solid start by Angels left-hander Reid Detmers, who threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
“It's a broken record, I think,” Nevin said. “Good effort. That's great pitching performance. We hit some balls at people again. … I keep saying it, the effort’s good. These guys really want to win a game right now. I mean, we all do. We know what that will mean for us.”
The Angels were 24-13 and tied for first place with Houston in the American League West on May 15. They lost 18 of their next 21 games, including the 14-game losing streak, to fall to 27-31 and 9 ½ games behind the Astros.
According to Elias, the Angels are third team in baseball history to be 10 or more games over .500 and have a losing streak of 10 or more games to fall below .500, joining the 1978 Oakland Athletics and 1970 Chicago Cubs.
Not since 1995 has an Angels club gone from first place to hapless so suddenly. That team suffered twin nine-game losing streaks from Aug. 25 on and blew an 11-game American League West lead to the Seattle Mariners, one of the worst collapses in baseball history.
Those Angels went 73 consecutive innings without a lead during the first nine-game losing streak from Aug. 25-Sept. 3, and 75 straight innings without a lead during the second nine-game skid from Sept. 13-23.
This year’s team isn’t quite as feeble — it actually held leads in the seventh inning or later in six of the 13 losses — but there are plenty of parallels to 1995.
There have been breakdowns in the rotation, the bullpen and on defense, a lack of clutch hitting and a shortage of quality at-bats, or the offense has simply disappeared, the Angels scoring five runs in the first five games of last week’s trip to New York and Philadelphia.
The Angels have been unable to combine good pitching with a robust offense on the same night. They play a relatively strong game and the bullpen blows a late lead.
Key players such as Taylor Ward and Anthony Rendon have been hurt. Others, most notably three-time AL most valuable player Mike Trout and reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani, have struggled.
Trout, who missed Wednesday night’s game because of left groin tightness and is listed as day to day, went a career-high 26 at-bats without a hit until his first-inning single Monday night. Ohtani is hitting .191 (nine for 47) with two homers and four RBIs during the streak.
Several players have also acknowledged that they feel pressure to be the hero, the one who puts an end to the streak, and that only seems to make things worse.
“What happens is, you have the team you’re playing, and the second opponent is pressure,” said Tim Salmon, the right fielder on that 1995 club and now one of the team’s broadcasters. “You’re feeling so much pressure to end the streak that it’s almost like playing with one arm tied behind your back.”
Salmon, 53, spent his 14-year career with the Angels from 1992 to 2006 and won a World Series with the team in 2002. Though he stressed he does not condone violence, he said players and teams of his generation sometimes resorted to it in an effort to snap a lengthy slump.
“The mindset back then, when you were going through a losing stretch, was we need a good brawl,” Salmon said. “We’re hitting somebody [with a pitch], and we’re gonna fight. What it did was create this energy, this excitement.
“You’re all bloodied up, you’re drinking beers and talking about it after the game and having fun, it just lightens the mood, and it helps you get out of your funk. In a way, it’s almost like they kind of need something like that. I wouldn’t condone fighting, but that’s the way the game was played back then.”
Nevin says he thinks the Angels just need a few clutch hits and to catch a break or two. Singles by Juan Lagares and Brandon Marsh put two on with no outs in the second, but Jack Mayfield flied out to left, Kurt Suzuki popped out to second, and Tyler Wade grounded out to shortstop.
They put two on with two outs in the third, but Lagares struck out to end the inning.
Suzuki was hit by a pitch to open the bottom of the seventh, but pinch-hitter Max Stassi grounded into a 6-4-3 double play with first baseman Christian Vazquez, a converted catcher, making a superb stretch and back-hand scoop of Story’s one-hop throw while keeping his foot on the bag.
“You feel like when you go to the field every day, everybody's loose, everybody's ready to go,” Nevin said. “You can talk about it all you want, but it’s just gonna take one big hit or mistake here and there. We just haven't run into that, and if we got one, we just haven't capitalized on it.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.