ARLINGTON, Texas--The Angels' hopes for a .500 season came to an end on a sweaty Texas night with dozens of slippery baseballs.
The Angels lost, 5-3, to the Texas Rangers on Friday night, dropping to 78-82 and ensuring their second losing season in the past 10 years.
The latest loss in a frustrating season included C.J. Wilson's claim that his sloppy outing was partly because of the baseballs. Wilson, who gave up three runs in six innings, said he was repeatedly given baseballs that seemed to be fresh out of the box. Normally, balls are rubbed with mud to reduce the shine and slickness.
"I told the clubbie, 'Dude, these balls are getting really bad. Someone might get hit in the teeth,'" Wilson said. "My ball moves a lot already. When the ball is slippery, it's even worse."
Wilson threw three wild pitches, hit two batters and walked one in a nightmare third inning.
Wilson, who spent his entire career with the Rangers before signing with the Angels two years ago, suggested "it's not a coincidence" that he was given subpar baseballs. The balls are normally rubbed by an employee of the home team who works in the umpires room. Manager Mike Scioscia said he thought the Rangers were having the same problem, though.
Wilson made an adjustment after the third inning -- relying more on his fastball and changeup that didn't require the same grip as his slider -- and got the game to the bullpen tied, 3-3. But Juan Gutierrez was charged with two runs in the seventh.
Scioscia said finishing .500 would not have changed anything about the Angels season.
"The fact we're going to end up with a losing record is always disappointing," he said, "but we've known for a while what lies ahead of us, and we need to get after it."
The emergence of Garrett Richards has been one of the most encouraging signs of the second half for the Angels.
And, if you ask Richards, one of the reasons for it is pitching coach Mike Butcher.
"He helped me out a lot, not only with the physical part of throwing a baseball, but with the mentality and being able to understand how to pitch to guys," Richards said.
By giving credit to Butcher, Richards is endorsing a coach who a few months ago was facing much public scrutiny over the the performance of the pitching staff.
To hear Richards tell it, though, it was criticism Butcher did not deserve.
"He keeps everything simple," Richards said. "Everyone throws the baseball different, and he understands that. He knows everybody is not the same. He doesn't make you over-think. For me personally, his way of translating what he's trying to get across is really easy to understand. The communication part is good."
As a group, Angels pitchers have made an impressive turnaround late in the season. The Angels had a 4.83 ERA on May 18, and it's been gradually coming down ever since. Their ERA since Aug. 23 is 3.16.
Jerome Williams, who finished strong after a rough July and August, said Butcher deserves some of the credit for the staff improvement.
"He gives good info," Williams said. "He's a good pitching coach. A lot of people gave him heat for (the struggles), but he's only out there to help us. We're the ones out there throwing the ball. Whatever info he gives us, we go out there and try to do it. Sometimes it doesn't work and it's on us, not on him."
Butcher, 48, conceded that part of the reason for the staff's improvement is simply that the top pitchers are finally healthy. Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas each missed about two months. Both have been in the rotation since early August.
"We started out a little rough, but they have pitched well of late," Butcher said. "I think a lot of it has to do with health."
Butcher, who is in his seventh season as the Angels pitching coach, said he's never been worried about his job. He has a contract for next season
"I have never coached to cover my butt," Butcher said. "Never have. Never will. I do my job. The guys have to go out and perform at a high level."
Saturday's game was moved to 9 a.m. PDT to avoid rain showers projected to move into the area later Saturday afternoon and evening.
It's rare for a game time to be changed, but with this being the second-to-last day of the season and the Rangers being in the pennant race, it was deemed in the best interests of the game that the teams take whatever measures necessary to avoid a doubleheader on the final day.
Richards, who is scheduled to start for the Angels, was expected to leave the ballpark during Friday night's game so he could get a good night's rest.
This is the Angels' earliest start time since they played at 10 a.m. in Boston on Patriot's Day in 2007. The Red Sox annually play an early game that day because of the Boston Marathon.
J.B. Shuck was not in the lineup a day after he sprained his right ankle. Shuck said he was feeling better, though. He did pinch-hit in the ninth inning, grounding out to second base. ...
Mike Trout tied the Angels record for reaching base safely when he reached for the 305th time. Darin Erstad set the record in 2000.
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