OAKLAND -- Getting swept by the team tailing you in the standings is tough enough.
Losing your most experienced starting pitcher in the process?
The A's were left to wonder how the good times vanished so quickly after Wednesday afternoon's 7-1 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels, which completed a three-game sweep by the visitors at the Oakland Coliseum.
The loss was accompanied by a scary scene in the top of the fourth inning, when A's right-hander Brandon McCarthy fell to the ground after being struck on the right side of his head by a line drive off the bat of Erick Aybar.
McCarthy banged the back of his head on the ground when he landed, and though he sat up quickly, he appeared dazed as A's head trainer Nick Paparesta rushed to check on him.
About two minutes later, McCarthy rose to his feet and walked off the field under his own power.
"Obviously your heart drops immediately because you don't know," A's catcher Derek Norris said. "I just tried to get out there as quick as I could and make sure he stayed down. The first thing he asked me was, 'Where did it hit me?' "
McCarthy was scheduled for a CT scan at nearby Summit Medical Center, and the A's issued a statement Wednesday night saying McCarthy was conscious and doing well but would stay overnight for observation. He will not fly on the team charter Thursday to Seattle.
McCarthy's next start is scheduled for Tuesday in Anaheim. A's manager Bob
That doesn't bode well for a team that counts three rookies among its five-man rotation and also lost veteran Bartolo Colon to suspension for the rest of the regular season.
The A's immediate concern is rebounding from being swept by the Angels, which abruptly halted their momentum from a recent nine-game win streak.
They remain tied with Baltimore for the American League's top wild-card spot at 76-60. Tampa Bay is 11/2 games behind, but the Angels have won 12 of 15 and trail the A's by just 2 ½ games.
"It was a little bit humbling," Melvin said. "They came in and just beat us, took it to us from the first game on. (Thursday's) off-day is coming at a good time. You're going to have some series that you want to remember. This is one that we want to forget."
The A's won't have much time to lick their wounds, as they play 17 of their next 20 games on the road. That stretch includes a road series against the Angels (74-63), a home series against the Orioles and then a 10-game road trip against Detroit (73-63), the New York Yankees (77-59) and Texas (80-55).
"If we're going to make this thing interesting, we're going to have to go up against the best," Norris said. "It'll be a good test for us to see if we really belong in the postseason."
It would seem the one breather in that schedule is the upcoming series at Seattle, which was 66-71 entering Wednesday night. But the Mariners have played well in the second half and in Friday's opener they will start Felix Hernandez, who is 7-1 with a 1.57 ERA over his past 10 starts (including a perfect game).
Pitching depth is the A's biggest strength, but they are heading into this challenging stretch without the veteran poise of Colon and perhaps McCarthy, who is 8-6 with a 3.24 ERA.
If McCarthy misses time, the A's are likely to turn to long reliever Travis Blackley -- who has pitched well but has just 20 major league starts under his belt -- or Dan Straily, who is currently at Triple-A Sacramento and has pitched just three big league games.
"We have depth," Melvin said. "Blackley's been good for us. We still have Straily. But I'd prefer not to even talk about that at this point, because we don't know what's going on with Brandon."
Angels players expressed their concern for McCarthy, and Aybar was seen sitting on the bench with his head in his hands. Later, he retrieved McCarthy's phone number and planned to call him.
"You feel really bad," Aybar said. "He's a good guy. Hopefully everything turns out all right and, God willing, he gets better soon."
Angels right fielder Torii Hunter sent out his message via Twitter: "@bmccarthy32 Hope ur doing ok big dawg. Praying for you man!"
They trailed 3-1 in the seventh and had runners on the corners with one out. But Coco Crisp and Seth Smith both struck out against Angels rookie reliever Nick Maronde.
The A's struck out 13 times total off five Angels pitchers, including former Athletic Dan Haren (10-10), who held them to three hits over six innings.
W L Pct. GB
A's 76 60 .559 --
Baltimore 76 60 .559 --
Tampa Bay 75 62 .547 1
L.A. Angels 74 63 .540 2
Detroit 73 63 .537 3
Note: Top two teams earn wild-card berths