All Sunday afternoon, the Angels bullpen faced the slimmest of margins. Against a Dodgers lineup that had scored 14 runs the night before, and amid their own recent struggles late in close games, they were asked to protect a one-run lead over five innings.
They answered with one of their best collective outings of the year.
The Angels claimed this weekend’s Freeway Series with a 2-1 win in Sunday’s rubber match, their bullpen closing the door in a game that saw all three runs scored in the third inning.
Chris Taylor initially gave the Dodgers a lead with an RBI single in the top of that frame. Then Jared Walsh answered with a two-run ground-rule double.
After that, the clubs traded zeros. Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer was good, giving up just four hits and two runs in six innings while striking out nine. But the Angels bullpen was better, following up José Quintana’s short one-run start with five scoreless innings.
For the Angels (15-18), the series victory was a sigh of relief, helping the club salvage a couple of wins from a homestand that began with a four-game sweep to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Emotional game yesterday, day game after a night game, very good [opponent] with a great starting pitcher on the mound — and we won,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s the kind of stuff you really appreciate about your group.”
The Dodgers (18-17) struck a very different tone in their postgame news conferences, reeling from what was their fifth straight series defeat.
“I’m pissed, personally,” Bauer said. “I don’t like losing. I want to win. That’s why I came here. And we are not playing up to our capabilities right now, so I’m mad. But I’m not going to speak on behalf of anyone else.”
Manager Dave Roberts expressed similar frustration when asked about Bauer’s comments: “There’s no complacency. Guys are grinding. That’s who we are. But the bottom line is it’s a performance game. We’re better than this and we expect to win considerably more games than we lose. He has every right to be upset, and he’s not alone in that.”
The Dodgers threatened a few times down the stretch. Corey Seager led off the fifth with a double — the last batter Quintana faced. Chris Taylor and DJ Peters drew walks in the sixth. And Mookie Betts and Seager both reached base with one out in the ninthwith Justin Turner and Will Smith coming to the plate.
But each time, Angels relievers shut the door.
Aaron Slegers was summoned in the fifth, retiring the next three batters he faced to strand Seager at second. Claudio relieved Slegers with one out in the sixth, inducing a fly out from Gavin Lux and grounder from Betts to end that inning. And Iglesias escaped his jam to end the game, picking up his fifth save of the season after Turner flied out to right and Smith rolled a fielder’s choice to third.
Left-hander Tony Watson, fresh off the injured list, and right-hander Mike Mayers also chipped in, silencing the Dodgers in the seventh and eighth.
“It’s all there,” Maddon said of his bullpen, which entered Sunday with the third-highest ERA in the majors (5.32) since April 21. “We just got to get their confidence built up, keep continuing to put them out there at the right time.”
Quintana struck out six batters but issued five walks while struggling with his command, while Bauer made his sixth quality start of the season.
The right-hander retired six of his first seven batters over the first two innings. After Phil Gosselin was caught stealing on a failed hit-and-run in the third, Bauer was one out away from escaping the third.
But then David Fletcher reached first on an infield single, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout drew back-to-back walks to load the bases, and Walsh leveled the count after falling behind 0-2.
Bauer challenged Walsh with a curveball low in the zone on the fifth pitch, but the left-handed slugger stayed on it, pulling a two-run double into the right-field corner that might have scored all three runners had it not bounced into the seats.
Bauer got his final 10 batters out after that, and Victor González and Kenley Jansen kept the deficit at one with sharp innings out of the bullpen. But the Dodgers offense failed to take advantage, going one for 11 with runners in scoring position to drop to 5-15 in their last 20 games and 4-10 in one-run decisions.
“You can say it’s early and you can say there’s no need to panic,” Bauer said. “But at the end of the day, we’re not going to roll the bats and balls out there and win baseball games. We’re not going to sleep-walk our way to winning another division title and going to the World Series again. That’s not how it works. We need to get better.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.