HOUSTON — The Angels broke out the hard hats, fired up the backhoe and dug their season-opening hole a little deeper Wednesday night.
They got a quality start from Joe Blanton but grounded into four double plays and went hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position in a 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros that dropped them to 11-22, the third-worst record in baseball.
The Angels have lost 11 of 14 games to fall 9 1/2 games behind Texas in the American League West, and they tied the 1969 and 1976 clubs for the worst 33-game start in franchise history.
Almost equally stunning for a team with a $148-million payroll and World Series aspirations, the Angels have lost the first two games of a three-game series to a woeful Astros club that has a $26-million payroll, had lost 10 of 11 games and was on pace to lose 120 games entering the series.
"Right now, we're not doing enough things well to set the games up on our terms," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "You have to create your own breaks, your own momentum, your own margin for error. That all comes with doing things on a more consistent basis."
The Angels actually caught a break in the bottom of the eighth when umpire Bill Welke called Jimmy Paredes out at the plate on a squeeze play, costing the Astros a run. Replays showed Paredes, who dived head-first into home, had touched the plate before catcher Hank Conger applied the tag.
Then came a ninth-inning threat, as Mike Trout led off with a single and took third on Albert Pujols' single off Houston ace Bud Norris, who needed only 84 pitches to zip through eight innings, giving up one run and nine hits.
But Houston closer Jose Veras replaced Norris and struck out cleanup batter Mark Trumbo on three pitches. Swinging at the first pitch, Howie Kendrick grounded sharply to shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who started a game-ending double play.
Trout also followed Erick Aybar's leadoff single in the first with a double-play grounder, Chris Iannetta grounded into a double play with runners on first and third to end the fifth, Aybar grounded into a double play to end the eighth.
Is this getting beyond frustrating for the Angels, who can't seem to match a solid pitching effort with good hitting?
"It's still frustrating," said Trumbo, whose wicked first-inning line drive with a runner on second was caught by the leaping Gonzalez at short. "You never want to stop feeling frustrated because then you've pretty much given up hope."
Blanton, who fell to 0-6 with a 5.66 earned run average, retired the side in order in the first and second innings, a great start for a right-hander who had one one-two-three inning in his first six starts.
But doubles by Matt Dominguez, Gonzalez and Paredes resulted in two runs in the third, and Chris Carter hit a solo homer in the fifth for a 3-0 Houston lead. Struggling Angels right fielder Josh Hamilton hit an opposite-field solo homer in the seventh, his first since April 14.
"We're just missing by a beat right now," Blanton said. "Hopefully, it comes around soon."