Okay, so it’s only Spring Training. The sights and sounds of the game are never going to be the same in Spring Training as they are when the real deal begins. Still, after so many long days without, they sound pretty darned musical to me. So, after two entire Angels games, one of which only aired on the radio and one we watched this evening via that faithful friend of the working stiff, the DVR, I have a few thoughts.
It’s only Spring Training. And believe you me, if it were going badly I would absolutely be emphasizing how much Spring Training games don’t really mean anything, a fact I don’t forget just because things are going well. However, it makes me really happy to see:
- Albert Pujols and that gorgeous swing looking good from the first at bat.
- C.J. Wilson looking like he’s in season shape already or pretty darn close to it.
- The regular infielders doing their regular season thing in the field and at the plate.
- One possible incarnation of the outfield doing their regular season thing in the field and at the plate.
- Alberto Callaspo belting the ball and playing his position with an “Ahem. I’m still here!” swagger and chip on his shoulder.
- Angels infielders turning two in March with a decidedly May kind of ease and precision. Have you ever noticed that the sound of the ball slapping the glove during a solid 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 is just a little different than it sounds during any other play? Three fast, solid thunks in precisely measured succession. It’s a lovely sound!
- Power from the catcher’s position!! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spring Training ball parks. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t care. I have now seen current Angels catchers look like they actually know what they are doing in the batter’s box in two back to back games. And after last season? Yeah, that’s a big deal.
- Angels ball players looking relaxed, rejuvenated, and very at ease with one another…until they start talking about the coming season and then there is a fire in their eyes. Love that!
Meh. It’s only Spring Training:
- Oh my word, the errors. With every team, in every game. Balls zinging out of gloves. Sailing lazily past gloves. Dropping softly at the outfielders’ feet… Throws going into the outfield. The backstop. The dugout. The stands… And some of the pitching and hitting? Ugh. Yes, this is why we have Spring Training but it is also why Spring Training will never be as good as the regular season.
- I’m not particularly impressed with most of the Angels kids so far. Not last season’s rookies or Mike Trout who spent a fair bit of time in the Bigs last year. I think my appreciation of their efforts and the breath of fresh air they bring has been thoroughly documented on these virtual pages. No, I mean the younger prospects. I really like Alexi Amarista whose gutsy, athletic, maximum effort style of play in a diminutive package reminds a bit of Dustin Pedroia. And I like Andrew Romine who has demonstrated great instincts and a gift for pulling plays out of thin air in the past. Other than that, I don’t see anything that impressive yet…of course, I wasn’t that impressed with Tyler Chatwood last Spring Training, so I can’t claim to have the best eye for the subtle nuances of a rookie-to-be’s performance.
- The usual: No one stays in the game for very long, even when they’re doing well. Small stadiums make for quiet games. Even the announcers…heck, even the sound and picture quality seem to be in training right along with the players.
We got to watch baseball. Real, current – if not precisely live – baseball over dinner for four days running now. And this evening my husband looked from the game to me with a very contented smile, all of the strain of the day gone from his face, and sighed. This is a nice evening, he said. It’s great to have the back game on. I couldn’t agree more…and that part needs no Spring Training specific header. That part is universal.
My friends and I play a lot of board and card games. Anything silly, strategy heavy or, ideally, both is held in high regard. One of them, a card game called Munchkin, is both a send-up of and homage to role playing games, kung fu theatre, sci-fi, superheroes, Lovecraftian horror and a lot of the other stuff you love as a kid…okay, a lot of the other stuff I loved as a kid…or, you know, as an adult in a couple of those cases. 😉 It’s an extremely silly game but also contains a fair bit of strategy. How longe do you collaborate with the other players to beat the monsters and steal their treasure? When do you start stabbing people in the back to win? Can you form alliances you can later betray? You know, great corporate world prep kind of stuff.
Hey Kristen, this is highly entertaining and all. Sounds like a fun game. But is there, oh I don’t know, a baseball tie-in in here somewhere? Yeah. Wait. I’m getting there.
Most of the cards that give you advantages in this game, will also give you a disadvantage in certain situations. For example, the boots of buttkicking card gives you a +3 against monsters because, one would assume, you could stomp on them more effectively, but will also give you a -1 if can’t kill the monster and have to “run away” because, well, they’re heavy.
Fascinating, Kristen. But is there like a +4 centerfielder lurking in here somewhere or a Mendoza line card (+5 defense/-2 offense) because, frankly, I’m not seeing any baseball tie-in. Quiet you. *clears throat* Ahem.
My point is this. For whatever reason, for the past two seasons, the Angels seem to have a -6 against the Red Sox. (Other seasons would certainly qualify as well, but we seemed to have turned the corner in 2009.) I’m not saying the Sox haven’t played good ball when our two teams met, because they have, in many cases excellent ball. It just that lately the Angels seem to slump no matter what and strange things happen. Our bats disappear. Players botch routine plays left and right – Peter Bourjos has had two errors this season. Both of them were dropped routine pop-ups while playing the Red Sox. The great bullpen adventure becomes more Frank Miller than Stan Lee. Most streaks, pitching, hitting or otherwise grind to a halt. It’s weird.
This season, the Angels have taken two out of three against the first place Indians, the Rangers when they were hotter than hot, the Blue Jays and, most recently, the hot and getting hotter Rays. So one would think that we would at least split our series with the Red Sox but, apparently it never works out that way. Come on guys, this is mental! Look at who you have beaten and look at how lights out you’ve been when you’ve played your best this season. Now, pull it together, back up Haren and give him some run support – no runners left behind! – and you can win this one and then turn around and do the same thing for Santana!
As you probably deduced from the above or any number of news reports this evening, Jered Weaver’s undefeated streak came to an end, which was always going to happen eventually. As Dan Haren said in an interview after his loss, no one is going to finish the season at 27 and 0. He was recovering from a stomach virus during which he lost a reported 9 pounds – which really shows up on that lanky frame, 6’7″ or not – and had to spend some time in the hospital with an IV to restore fluids.
Suffice to say, he didn’t have his usual spark. His pitch counts were higher, things were just slightly off…and the really scary part is that he still could have won the game with a little more run support. And that’s not even addressing the crappy umpire call that lead to Pedroia being in a position to smack in the 2nd and 3rd of those runs and changed the game…of course, one of our runs benefitted from a less blatant bad call, so I can only complain so loudly *whistles*. What I’m saying here is, contrary to what some media folks are saying, the streak was not a fluke. Weaver is good and he is tough – and now we know just how tough! – and he will rack up more wins, as will the rest of the rotation who aren’t exactly chopped liver. Go Angels!
I love my Angels, as you have all probably guessed by now. But I don’t think you can be a diehard fan of one particular team without being an equally passionate fan of the game itself. As such there is no disloyalty in admiring feats of greatness performed by teams and players other than your own, quite the contrary. Baseball is one of our favorite museums and every diving catch, robbed homerun, clutch line drive, wicked change-up to strike out the side, and perfectly executed six-four-three double play is a work of art we would be philistines not to appreciate.
But how do you react when the not-your-team’s oh wow, any true baseball fan can appreciate how awesome this is play/catch/hit happens in a game against your team? It’s a real conundrum. Of course, you always root for your team. But for me, the pure baseball fan side of my brain is thinking Wow! Wow! That was amazing! I can’t believe I just saw that! What a play/catch/hit/whatever! and wants my body to stand up and cheer. While the Angels fan side of my brain is swearing a blue streak and wants my fist to shake angrily in the air or pound on the table.
Usually the reaction that actually bubbles from my mouth is very loud, starts out with a tone of grudging genuine admiration, finishes with a tone of passionate anger and anguish and sounds a little something like this (Note: Sections in quotations have been edited to make my more sailor-like proclivities safe for a general audience.):
Great catch, “when two people really love each other”er
Oh, nice play, “notoriously stubborn beast of burden” hole
Great hit, you “I question whether your mommy and daddy really made everything official before you were born.”
I think it’s an understandable reaction, and a one I find myself having several times a week. When we lose because of situations like this, that censored part above gets louder, longer and more creative. Every once in a great long while, a lost game might have so many of this sort of play that there is nothing you can do but calmly accept defeat with an understandable explanation along the lines of: Okay, my guys really need to be better about RISP but what can you do? Josh Hamilton was a human highlight reel, that “when two people really love each other”er.
This. Was not. One of the those games. Nor was yesterday’s game. In fact, seriously, nor was this whole Red Sox series. Oh, I had a few Nice play, “notoriously stubborn beast of burden” hole moments, especially where Dustin Pedrioa was concerned. But even though the Red Sox swept the Angels this series, keeping us to a measly five runs in four games with back to back shutouts to finish things off, I don’t think they played unbeatable baseball by any means. This is not a sour grapes, poor loser post. I am not knocking the Red Sox at all. Everyone knows they started out the season on the wrong foot…or, like, five of them. But there is no denying they are heating up, as I always assumed they would. They played pretty good baseball during this four game series. Very good at some points, but never lights out. Prior to this series, after the debacle that was opening weekend in Kansas City, the Angels were playing pretty good baseball. Very good at some points and occasionally lights out. There was no reason we couldn’t have at least split this series if we’d kept that up.
It’s not even a question that the Angels can play better ball than we did the last four games. How many Angels highlights from the Texas series were in the MLB Tonight Plays of the Week this evening? A lot. And Peter Bourjos’ amazing dead sprint to jump up and rob Dave Murphy of a homerun at the centerfield wall was the #2 play of the week, and deservedly so. I think the Boston series play was the fluke, not the Blue Jays, Indians, White Sox and Texas series. So, come on Angels. Pick yourselves up. Dust yourselves off. Get it together. Wake up the bats. Make your pitches. Score some runs. And, pretty please with sugar on top, call the darned ball. There’s a lot more baseball left to play and you can do this.
Thursday’s game was an exercise in frustration. Josh Beckett was dealing but the Angels had a very few opportunities early on and couldn’t capitalize on them. Tyler Chatwood’s start was okay and would even be considered good if he hadn’t walked five batters, the last of which proved costly. The Angels could have scored more runs after Torii’s 7th inning homer tied the game up. Erick Aybar could have been content with a double. The bullpen could have kept us in the game. And the extra innings heroics could have worked out. The umpires also could have made better calls – not all of the close ones were bad. Dustin Pedroia was safe at home *resigned sigh*, but at third? Only if running five to six feet outside the base path to avoid the tag is suddenly Kosher. Oh well, that was the fourth run and didn’t matter. They would have won with three. Fans also could have been classy and not thrown money at Carl Crawford. Or, to sum it up another way, after the game, I decided that helping my husband snake the drain pipe for the washing machine was more enjoyable than watching the postgame show. But I still had high hopes for Friday when we would send Dan Haren to the mound…oh boy.
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, gourmet for varying definitions of gourmet dinner and the Angels game) spread: triple mushroom risotto with pancetta accompanied by a bottle of Cypher Winery’s Peasant, a lovely take on a French field blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tannat and Counise that tastes like plums and black cherries with hints of nutmeg, vanilla and anise. Making risotto was a therapeutic decision. After the tense extra innings drama and unsatisfactory result of Thursday’s game, I was anxious in the hours leading up to this evening’s game and, trust me, spending half an hour stirring, stirring, ladling, stirring, carefully judging texture and stirring some more is oddly calming. And it turned out well, if I do say so myself. Which was good because, the way this evening’s game went, starting it anxious might have proved fatal for the throw pillows.
Dan Haren wasn’t dealing tonight, which is bound to happen from time to time, and the rest of the team wasn’t backing him up consistently. Not with run support and not with defense either: a Wells bobble, Peter Bourjos with one highlight reel play and one blooper reel play, a Mathis passed ball and not a bloody one of them capable of hitting with runners in scoring position until the 8th inning. Not exactly a recipe for success. Okay, the safe call on Saltalamacchia at third blew goats, as did several others, and then he scored the first Red Sox run on the next hit. Demoralizing? Yes. But that was not a reason to fall apart for two innings. Bad calls happen. That’s baseball. So get productively angry and get the next guys out.
And yet, we still almost pulled it off. Timely hits in the 7th and 8th innings, and an equally timely Saltalamacchia passed ball – darned nice of him, really, after that call at 3rd 😉 – finally put the Angels on the board and brought us within one run of catching the Red Sox. Then, it was the ninth inning with you know who on the mound. Ugh. Hank Conger got a hit though. In a déjà vu moment, we had hopes that Howie Kendrick could stick it out through another battle and get a hit this time. Who knows what might have been if Paplebon hadn’t benefitted from such a generous strike call on the second pitch. Howie may well still have struck out…but he might not have. Oh well. Who knows what might have happened if the guys had settled down immediately after the botched call in the third, or if Bourjos made the catch instead of blowing it, or if Wells had made the other catch for that matter.
So, am I panicking or even particularly worried? No. It’s only two games. It’s April. They can’t win all 162 no matter how much I would like them to and even quality players will have bad days, sometimes all at once. Am I annoyed and kind of deflated feeling? Yes. I am tired of getting beaten by the Red Sox, especially when they are playing good baseball but hardly unbeatable baseball. We should have won this one. Oh well. At least the wine and risotto were good.
So, guys, can we go get ’em the next two games? Yes, their pitching is tough but this is hardly an impossible request.