Angels just can't put it all together

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- They do fireworks at Angel Stadium all the time. Warm weekend summer nights. Holidays. And of course, after the last regular-season home game to show appreciation for their fans, another 3 million of which turned up this season.

Most of the time they wait awhile after the game. Let the players get off the field and into the clubhouse. Let the fans file down on to the field or the lower bowl of the stadium. But for some reason they didn't wait this time. Albert Pujols struck out to close the book on the Los Angeles Angels' disheartening 9-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners and fireworks incongruously started popping out in center field.

It has been that kind of year in Anaheim.

A season that started with so much promise after the offseason acquisitions of Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson is six games from its end now with no obvious explanation of why this talented team could be left home come playoff time.

In the beginning it was the offense that let the Angels down. Then it was the pitching. In between the bullpen cost them games. Then it was the starting pitching again. Thursday it was again the bullpen, which gave up six runs over 3 2/3 innings of relief of starter Dan Haren.

"When they've done the job, we've done well as a team," Scoscia said of his team's oft-maligned bullpen. "When they've struggled, it's had an impact on us. It didn't work out this afternoon."

The Angels have the most blown saves (22) in the American League this year. They also have the fewest wins in relief, indicating that the relievers haven't done very well at giving the offense an opportunity to win the game once they take the ball from the starter.

But it's not just the bullpen that has landed the Angels where they are now, two games back of the Oakland Athletics for the final wild-card spot with six games to play.

That's just one hole they've had to plug in a year that has felt as if the team were leaking water from the start.

When you get to the end of things -- a season, a game, a career -- it's easy to only look for meaning in the things that came at the end.

But the story of this Angels season, the how and the why they've ended up looking up at the A's and Baltimore Orioles in the final week of the season without full control of their destiny, is a long one. And the beginning of it might be more important than the end.

The truth is the Angels have been bailing water out of the boat from the start of the season, when they stumbled out of the gate 18-25. Since then they've played like a playoff team, going 68-44 (.607) in 112 games.

"We've shown a lot of fight," Haren said. "If it weren't for really two stretches during this season, we'd probably end up with 95 wins or something. Unfortunately we dug ourselves a couple of holes and we're not sure we'll be able to get out."

To a man, no one in the Angels' clubhouse Thursday was admitting defeat. There's still six games left and Oakland and Baltimore have to keep winning, too.

But it's also obvious the Angels' margin for error just went from small to virtually nothing with Thursday's loss. They end the season on the road with three games in Texas this weekend and three games up in Seattle next week.

After the game there were the familiar laments. Too many runners left in scoring position, the bullpen didn't get it done, the pitch to Seattle designated hitter John Jaso that Haren wishes he had back.

But these were today's problems, and they wouldn't really have been problems if the Angels hadn't dug themselves such a deep hole at the beginning of a year.

"If we had those six weeks back and just played average baseball, I think we'd be fine right now," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "We wouldn't be in this position.

"But we're not going to give up. I can't believe people think that. If you're a competitor and you play sports, there's no way you're going to give up, ever. We're not going to do that."