A week ago, while addressing reporters in a tunnel between the visiting dugout and clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, Angels general manager Perry Minasian bristled at a suggestion that a major shakeup was needed for a team that had lost six straight games and was drifting toward mediocrity.
“Our goal in two months is to be in the mix, and we’re in the mix,” Minasian said. “I’m not one to react to a short sample of a week.”
Two weeks of losses, though, was a big enough sample to spark a reaction that sent shock waves through the clubhouse and the sport.
The Angels, mired in a 12-game losing streak that negated their promising start, fired manager Joe Maddon on Tuesday and named third-base coach Phil Nevin as interim manager for the rest of the season. Then they went out and lost their 13th game in a row, 6-5 to Boston in 10 innings.
“Tough day,” Minasian said during an emotional pregame news conference. “This is not something I thought was going to happen three weeks ago, but I felt like it was in the best interest of the club going forward to make a change.”
Minasian, in his second year as GM, began contemplating the move a few days ago. The decision, which Minasian said he made without consulting players or coaches, was crystallized on his drive to the stadium Tuesday morning. He called owner Arte Moreno, who approved the move, and drove to Maddon’s home in Long Beach to deliver the news.
“It was time for a new voice,” Minasian said. “We have not played well these last two weeks. There hasn’t been one phase of the game where we’ve been good. We’ve struggled on the mound, at the plate, on defense, on the basepaths. One thing I will say is the effort has been great.”
The Angels were 24-13 and tied for first place with Houston in the American League West on May 15. They lost 16 of their next 19 games to fall to 27-29 and 8½ games behind the Astros entering Tuesday night.
Mike Trout opened the game with a two-run homer and a double, however he had to be removed in the third inning with “left groin tightness” and the Angels fell to the Red Sox after failing to hold another late lead, the losing streak tying the longest in franchise history.
The streak has featured breakdowns in the rotation and bullpen, which has blown leads in the seventh inning or later six times in the 13 games, and a disappearing offense that scored only 12 runs in seven games before Tuesday.
The most devastating blow was Sunday in Philadelphia, when closer Raisel Iglesias gave up a tying grand slam to Bryce Harper in the eighth inning and Jimmy Herget gave up a walk-off, three-run homer to No. 9 hitter Bryson Stott in the ninth inning of a 9-7 loss.
“We had a really good stretch in April, helped of May, but these last three weeks to be honest, we haven’t played the brand of baseball we played early,” Minasian said. “I’m not putting that on Joe. It’s not his fault. It’s on all of us.”
Maddon, in the final year of a three-year, $12-million contract that included a $4-million option for next year, was surprised but hardly crushed by Tuesday’s news.
“I’m doing really well,” Maddon said. “I mean that sincerely. Don’t feel bad for me. I’m good. I went for a bike ride today. I’m playing golf [Wednesday] morning at 9:15. I believe there are greater opportunities on the horizon.”
The Angels have gone seven years without reaching the playoffs, but expectations were higher for this year after they fortified their rotation with Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen and bolstered their bullpen by retaining Iglesias and adding veterans Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Archie Bradley.
Six weeks into the season, the hopes of Angels fans soared. The rotation looked good, with young left-hander Reid Detmers even throwing a no-hitter, and the relief work was stout, for the most part.
Trout returned from a calf injury and regained the form that made him a three-time AL most valuable player, hitting .328 with a 1,129 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 12 homers and 26 RBIs in his first 39 games. Right fielder Taylor Ward looked like a Triple Crown threat, batting .375 with a 1,209 OPS, nine homers and 23 RBIs in his first 29 games. Third baseman Anthony Rendon returned from hip surgery and delivered several clutch hits.
But Ward slammed face-first into a wall on May 15, suffering a neck and shoulder injury, and hasn’t been the same hitter since. Rendon suffered a right-wrist injury and was placed on the injured list on May 28.
Trout went into a tailspin, going a career-high 26 at-bats without a hit. Shohei Ohtani hasn’t been able to replicate his 2021 MVP season, batting .242 with a .771 OPS, 11 homers and 32 RBIs.
“A couple guys got hurt, we lost some games late, and there was a compounding effect,” Maddon said. “We didn’t hit, and we faced a ton of good pitching on a tough road trip.
“It’s a baseball moment, part of 162 that you have to fight through. But you don’t quit on them. I would never quit on my guys, and they would never quit on me.”
Those guys did feel like they let Maddon down.
“Joe gets the blame, but it falls on the players—we’re the ones who play the game,” Bradley said. “We don’t lose 12 in row, Joe Maddon doesn’t get fired. I take it personally. I take it as a wake-up call, and I think this team does, too. We’ve got to right the ship man.”
They’ll try to do so with a new captain in Nevin, the former Placentia El Dorado High School and Cal State Fullerton star. Nevin, 51, played 12 years in the big leagues before spending seven years as a minor league manager and five as third-base coach for the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees before joining the Angels.
“What Nev brings to the table — a different voice, a different style — will help the room, help spark us and help us win games,” Minasian said before the game. “We’re on a 12-game losing streak, but we’re 1½ games out of a playoff spot. As poorly as we played over the last two weeks, there’s an opportunity right in front of us.”
While grateful for the opportunity to manage in the big leagues for the first time, Nevin acknowledged the promotion was bittersweet.
“I’ve wanted this opportunity, but this isn’t how I envisioned it,” Nevin said. “I envisioned it being a happy day addressing the players, media, the staff … but this is under different circumstances, and I don’t feel those same emotions. I am excited, absolutely, and the conversation I had with [Maddon] put me at ease. He told to take this opportunity and run with it, and be the person that I am, which I plan to do.”