OAKLAND -- A successful return to the rotation by Angels right-hander Garrett Richards on Saturday was marred by a rare meltdown by reliever Scott Downs, who gave up a pinch-hit, two-run home run to Derek Norris in the seventh inning of a 3-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum.
Richards gave up three hits in five scoreless innings and left with a 1-0 lead, but a bullpen that suffered its second blown save in five games couldn’t hold on, and the Angels fell 12 games behind the American League West Division-leading A’s, matching their largest deficit of the season.
Downs, who entered with a 2-2 record and 1.24 earned-run average in 43 appearances, had not been charged with a run in 29 consecutive outings dating to a May 1 game in Oakland, but that streak, which fell one shy of Francisco Rodriguez’s franchise record, set in 2006, came to a quick end Saturday.
After replacing Dane De La Rosa with one out and a runner on in the seventh inning, Downs’ first pitch was lined over the left-field wall by Norris, whose first-ever pinch hit turned a 1-0 A’s deficit into a 2-1 lead. It was also the first homer Downs had given up since last Sept. 25.
Downs struck out Eric Sogard, but Coco Crisp hit a two-out single to center and scored when Jed Lowrie drove a double over the head of right fielder Collin Cowgill to score Crisp for a 3-1 lead and knock Downs out of the game.
Richards, who replaced struggling right-hander Joe Blanton in the rotation, made his first start since April 30, when he was rocked for seven runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings of a 10-6 loss in Oakland and was subsequently moved back to the bullpen.
This start went a little bit better, with Richards striking out four and walking two in a 78-pitch performance that was backed by some solid defense.
With two on and one out in the second inning, left fielder J.B. Shuck raced in to make a sliding catch of Chris Young’s sinking liner, and with two on and no outs in the third, second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar turned a double play on Jed Lowrie’s grounder.
Kendrick also made a nice play with one on and one out in the fourth inning, diving to his left to smother Josh Reddick’s grounder, scrambling to his feet and throwing to first base for the out.
The Angels scored their only run in the second inning when Josh Hamilton, who entered with a .158 average and just one home run this season against left-handed pitchers, hit a solo homer to right off Oakland left-hander Tommy Milone.
But that was the only run surrendered by Milone, who gave up four hits, struck out six and walked four in seven innings to improve to 9-8. Ryan Cook threw a scoreless eighth, and closer Grant Balfour retired the side in order in the ninth for his 28th save.