ANAHEIM, Calif. — Eight and nine. Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon couldn't get past those two numbers Thursday night. He repeated them often as he sat behind his desk after another frustrating loss.
Maddon was stuck on eight and nine, because closer Grant Balfour couldn't get past them either.
Balfour started the ninth inning by walking the No. 8 and 9 batters in the Los Angeles Angels lineup, thus beginning another late-game meltdown.
This one ended when Mike Trout crushed a change-up from Brad Boxberger for a walk-off three-run homer in the Angels' 6-5 victory at Angel Stadium.
“We had eight and nine coming up. I'm really good about that,” Maddon said. “I'm really good with eight and nine showing up right there, and I really think that Grant is very capable of getting those guys out.”
Boxberger was summoned to face Trout after Balfour allowed an RBI single to Collin Cowgill that cut the Rays' lead to 5-3.
Trout was waiting at the plate. Albert Pujols was on deck.
“Eight and nine is coming up and he walks both those guys and the base hit, and I just didn't want to see what had happened last time in Chicago, and I really thought Boxy had a chance to strike those guys out,” Maddon said.
What happened in Chicago was a five-run ninth-inning rally by the White Sox off Balfour that ended with Jose Abreu's grand slam.
Balfour walked three batters that night. He walked just the two Thursday.
“Hey, it's his decision. He went with it,” Balfour said. “Personally, I'm disappointed by it because I want to be out there till the end. I want to be out there and finish it. Any time I have to come out in the ninth inning is a bad thing for me, you know. But, a couple of walks there and a ground ball, all right, I get it. I wasn't putting guys away maybe. But, hey, that's the way it ended up.”
Balfour wasn't happy with the walks. He now has 14 in 15 1/3 innings this season.
“I've been sporadic,” he said. “I haven't been on the top of my game. We can see that, otherwise I'm out there one, two, three and it's all over. So, I've been a lot better and I need to get better. There's no two ways about it.”
But Balfour felt he got the right-handed hitting Cowgill to hit into a double play, only the ball scooted past second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who was not playing where Balfour expected Rodriguez to be stationed.
“To be honest, I didn't know he was playing (closer toward second base),” Balfour said. “I'm pitching him away like that and he shoots it away. Frustrating because, to be honest, I didn't know he was playing that far over. It's almost like it's easy for him to shoot it right over there. I guess it's my fault. I should have known where he was playing.”
The Rays took a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning on the strength of starter Erik Bedard, who pitched into the sixth inning and turned in another solid outing, and the work of relievers Jake McGee and Joel Peralta, who both pitched out of jams.
Brandon Guyer drove in two runs with an RBI single in the second inning and his first home run of the season, a solo shot to right field which came in the seventh inning and gave the Rays that late, three-run cushion.
James Loney finished a three-run sixth inning with a two-run single to right field.
Bedard has allowed one or fewer earned runs in his last four starts, pitching to a 0.79 ERA during that stretch. He was headed toward his first three-game winning streak since 2009 and the Rays were closing in on their third straight win on this seven-game West Coast swing.
The game was playing out the way Maddon envisioned, with McGee and Peralta building the bridge to Balfour.
“We did a lot of good things,” Maddon said. “We had the game where we wanted it to be – a three-point lead in the ninth inning with your closer coming into the game against their eight and nine, and it didn't want to work out.”
Hank Conger led off the inning and fell behind 1-2 before working the count full and drawing the walk. Balfour was ahead 0-2 to the next batter, pinch-hitter Elfren Navarro, before walking him.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey went to the mound to settle Balfour, and Boxberger began throwing in the bullpen.
“The walks to the eight and nine guys bothered me,” Maddon said. “That's what I was concerned about, because if he's walking those guys, here comes Trout and Pujols and I didn't know what that was going to look like, and I did think that Boxy could strike those guys out.”
Trout was 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in his career against Balfour. Nevertheless, Maddon called for Boxberger, who struck out three batters on nine pitches against Baltimore during the last homestand.
“I'm looking at all my work right there, Box had a better of chance of striking out Trout than Grant did,” Maddon said. “I didn't want the ball moved, but he moved it pretty good.”
Boxberger threw two changeups to Trout, one a strike, the other a ball. He threw a third changeup, but it got too much of the plate.
“It just leaked in and he was able to get to it,” Boxberger said.
It was the first walk-off hit of Trout's career.
Meanwhile, Balfour had to deal with the blow to his pride by being pulled from a game in the middle of an inning despite still pitching with the lead.
“You know what? I'm worried about the team,” Maddon said. “Who's more aware of psychological components than me? But in that moment right there, based on what we've seen Boxy able to do and that part of the order coming up and if it had been different batters that (Balfour) had walked as opposed to eight and nine, that would have made it a little more different. But eight and nine, and here comes two, three and four, I didn't like it. Really, I thought Boxy had a chance to punch these guys out.”
Maddon was asked if he would talk to Balfour before tonight's game. Maddon said he didn't think so. He also said he hasn't lost confidence in Balfour.
“He's got way better command than that,” Maddon said. “I just think it's a matter of his approach. We'll get him right, get him back in the strike zone, because that's the kind of game you should be able to finish off. … If we go into the same situation (tonight) he'll be in the game.”