ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Los Angeles Angels pitcher Zack Greinke became the first pitcher in the modern era to strike out 13 batters in five innings, and yet the Angels gained no ground.
As a team, the Angels tied a major league strikeout record, and yet they remain where they were when the day started.
The Angels' pitchers dominated in a 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium, but because the Oakland Athletics rallied for a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Texas Rangers, the Angels remain two games out of the final wild-card spot with eight games to play.
The Angels also could not put any distance between themselves and the Tampa Bay Rays because the Rays also won and remained a game behind the Angels in the chase for that final wild-card spot.
The Angels' inability to change their position in the standings put a damper on a historical pitching performance Tuesday night.
"That sucks," said outfielder Torii Hunter, who hit a two-run home run Tuesday. "Trust me, we're scoreboard-watching. I don't care what nobody says. I am."
A few more pitching performances like they got Tuesday and the Angels should be able to make up that ground before the season ends.
Greinke, Garrett Richards, Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri combined to whiff 20 Mariners and tied the major league record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The Chicago Cubs (1998) and Boston Red Sox (1986, 1996) have also had 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.
The Angles were the first to use multiple players to reach that number, however, as Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens turned the trick by themselves for the Cubs and Red Sox.
Greinke certainly had the stuff to match that, but his pitch count piled up to 110 by the end of the fifth inning and he had to come out of the game with the Angels leading, 4-1. It was the third consecutive good start Greinke had to leave early because of his pitch count.
But unlike the past two, when Frieri blew leads in the ninth inning, the bullpen held on to keep the Angels breathing in the playoff chase.
"I was just trying to get ahead of guys, and that was the plan," Greinke said. "It just kind of worked out that I got a bunch of strikeouts early, and then later on I kind of had to go for a strikeout because there were people in scoring position in a close game. Kind of fluky, I would say, is the main thing that happened.”
Even more fluky was the fact Greinke needed so many pitches when he was so dominant. It took him 27 pitches to get out of the first inning, mostly because leadoff batter Dustin Ackley had a 10-pitch at-bat to start the game.
Some other flukes of baseball raised his pitch count, such as when Trayvon Robinson reached on a wild pitch after striking out and when Mark Trumbo dropped a fly ball in left field that would have been the third out in the fourth inning.
"I don't know that I've ever seen a guy throw so many pitches in five innings and be so successful," manager Mike Scioscia said. "If you throw that many pitches in five innings, usually you’re having a tough night.”
Scioscia couldn't afford to send Greinke back out for another inning. He has been one of the team's best pitchers of late and will need to pitch again five days from now in a game that might have even bigger ramifications.
It's also the reason Scioscia pulled Richards after one inning even though Richards, a long reliever, struck out the side in the sixth. For the Angels, it's all about trying to make up that two-game deficit with Oakland, not setting strikeout records.
"What you really want to guard against is not playing to the level that you need to and having the opportunity and not being where you need to be to take advantage of it," Scioscia said. "So we need to keep winning."