Thursday’s game. Angels vs. A’s. Our usual attempts to get to the ballpark at a decent hour actually worked this time and we arrived in time to catch the tail end of warm ups.
And in time to catch Erick Aybar’s Gold Glove Award ceremony…Murphy’s Law being what it is, of course this meant he was good for at least one colossal error this game and Murphy, sadly as usual, did not disappoint. Oh well, it was still neat to watch him get the award, especially on the day the Angels very smartly locked him up for four more years! Whoo hoo!
Before the game begins, the unlit halo looms expectantly over the stadium. Sadly, the halo would remain unlit for another evening.
Heading down the 57 for the game, I told my husband that I had a good feeling about this game, that I was sure the Angels were due for a win and that we would get to see Albert Pujols’ first Angels home run…personally, I don’t think I was so much wrong as just a game or two early. See, I don’t claim clairvoyance, I just see patterns and the Angels patterns say improvement to me.
Indeed, the Angels were improved over the previous evening, though still unvictorious and then this evening, they were even further improved – though we still seriously need to work on those LOBsters – and they won!!
Obviously, it’s more fun to be at a game where the Angels win, than one where they lose, but as much as I was annoyed with mistakes that simply didn’t have to be, we still had a fine evening at the ballpark – because isn’t an evening at that the ballpark better than an evening just about anywhere else? And the A’s fan gents behind us were a kick and a half. Be it at the Big A or the coliseum the opposing fans I tend to have the most fun with are A’s fans. I hope you enjoyed your trip, boys, and that we were as nice to you as your fellows were to us on our trip to Oakland last season – and the A’s fans were pretty darned nice hosts.
Honestly, one game is only one game so my greatest regret about the Angels losing this specific one game is the high socks. Note:
Yes, exactly, they all wore high socks to change their luck…well, except C.J. and the other pitchers. If the Angels had won this game, you know the high socks would be here to stay, and I do appreciate the neater, more professional look of the old school uniform.
Speaking of C.J., part of the impetus of my going online to find the $10 club section tickets for this game was the thought that I wanted to see Mr. Wilson’s home debut in an Angels uniform. Well, Mr. Wilson, as you have probably seen on Quick Pitch, SportsCenter or the like had some good innings and some not so good innings and one pretty bad inning – not his usual performance at all, though typical of the times the Angels did beat him. Hit C.J. early and he gets a little flustered. Still it was nice to help welcome him to the Big A properly and if his first two appearances and all of the times I’ve watched him kick Angels behind in a Rangers uniform are any indication, I expect pretty good things.
You could see the bullpen well from our seats. They look so normal and harmless, don’t they? Well, by and large they are, or rather their harm is helpfully directed at the opposition. As for the rest of time, well, to paraphrase Wednesday, homicidal maniacs look like everybody else, don’t they?
Still, they were more than acceptable on Thursday and pretty darned good on Friday and I so want to see a pattern there!
Friday evening’s game further confirms the pattern I thought I was seeing earlier – improvement. Yes, there are still a few issues, but I think that if we can just find a lineup, or even one lineup for groundball pitchers and one lineup for flyball pitchers, and that/those lineup(s) make sense, and we stick with it/them long enough for guys to get comfortable, we’ll really see something here.
And speaking of a return to consistency, after way, way too many day games, the Friday Night Ritual is back – that’s right Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels. This evening I made a spinach, tomato and mushroom paella with grilled Argentinean chorizo (it’s closer to a heavily paprika-ed Italian sausage than the chorizo you may be used to). It was everything the Friday night ritual should be – a delicious and gourmet seeming but budget conscious meal to enjoy with the game plus leftovers for the rest of the weekend. We paired it with a yummy (totally a technical/industry term 😉 ) Paso wine – Clavo’s Collusion, a Cabernet, Malbec and Petite Verdot blend. Yum! Perhas the return of the Friday night ritual added a little luck? Okay, probably not. But that doesn’t make it any less tasty.
And if there seems to be a certain, um, disjointedness to this post, a, shall we say, joie de vin…well…there’s a reason for that. Did you not read about the ritual? It’s Friday!! The Halo is lit and so am I! Happy weekend everyone!
A belated Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from the Emerald Isle!…
…Yeah, I wish. 😉 Though as not-Ireland places for a St. Patrick’s weekend getaway go, Paso Robles, CA is plenty nice enough. And although the particular shades of green in this landscape are all wrong for Ireland, it is still quite lovely and the mist and rain were at least accurate. So what’s a diehard Angels fan like me doing in a place like Paso Robles when there are games going on Arizona, you ask?
Well, with Pujols-mania bringing folks out to Tempe in droves, hotel stays and such suddenly got more expensive and harder to book, so we decided to wait and go to Spring Training another year. Oh well, I was a little sad but that does mean more money for the regular season ticket budget, which certainly makes up for missing out…and, besides, it’s the Zinfandel Festival which means I just spent a lovely weekend going through my own little baseball blogger’s Spring Training, which came none too soon if you ask me. Between Albert Pujols heating up the lineup, the rest of the bats following right long, the starting rotation looking great and even more formidable with the addition of C.J. Wilson, and what is looking more and more like the very real possibility of Kendrys Morales returning to the 25-man roster, this could be a very special season in the making. A blogger’s got to prepare. Training and drills are a must.
Okay, training and drills. Fine, you say. But at a wine festival? Of course at a wine festival! Where else could I get all of this practice and prep in? Take photos, for example. If you read this blog last season – first off thank you! – you know I like to take photos when I go to Angels games so that I can pepper my posts with photos that are as much mine as the commentary. Well, taking baseball game photos can be tricky. There’s a lot of action. Your subjects are constantly on the move, sometimes in unpredictable ways. It’s all too easy for the rusty blogger to end up with a large collection of photos like this one, which I like to call Not-So-Still life with Aybar:
Or even this one. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos were both well in frame and in focus when I started to take the photo…:
You’ve got to warm up for tricky action shots. Practicing on things that don’t move but require a lot of detail and focus can be helpful, like this vineyard (I love the gnalred, wintery vines and the lines created by the three distinct fields with vines running at three different angles):
Or this gorgeous tasting room:
Then you can move on to some simple action subjects, like these Paso Robles wild turkeys:
I say a simple action shot because, although this is an impressive little dominance display here, with a lot of action going on, turkeys (the real ones with feathers at any rate) don’t generally muck up photos by adjusting themselves. Still, although no Spring Training can ever replicate the real thing I think I have gotten enough “innings” in with the camera to be ready for the regular season.
As for the rest of my blogger’s Spring Training? Well, I got to study plenty of tasty treats in preparation for my Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels nights, like this glorious roast pork panini and sundried tomato salad from Farmstand 46. They call it The Goat:
…or the Zinfandel sliders, the tacos al pastor, the paella or any of the other deliciousness I was too busy nom-ing to take a photo of. Would I really make a roast pork panini or paella just for our Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels enjoyment? *laughs* Will Mike Scioscia change the Angels lineup a minimum of 60 times this season? Hell. Yes.
Speaking of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels, what better place to stock up the old wine cellar than at Zin Fest? Yes, I think it’s going to be a beautiful season:
I even got my usual pre-season gabfest in with some of the Giants fans at the Barrel 27 pick-up party. Not surprisingly they are every bit as thrilled to be getting Buster Posey back as we are with the positive Kendrys outlook. Not to mention it was fun talking rookies and just barely not rookies with them. The Giants have some great younger players in the mix or soon to be in the mix too – one gent I was chatting with is particularly enamored with Baby Giraffe, Brandon Belt – so our two fan bases have some fun things in common.
So, I have my trusty camera at the ready, my Opening Day tickets in hand…er…inbox, plenty of wine options (seriously if I actually showed you the full collection of options, you would laugh at me!) and my typing fingers limber and warmed up. 19 days until Opening Day and I. Can’t. Wait!
Jered Weaver and the Aftermath of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Day
Since receiving official word of the expected six-game suspension following the “fireworks” at the Tigers game last Sunday, Jered Weaver has been adamant that he was not only appealing MLB’s decision, but would do so in person. As recently as Friday evening, there was word that Weaver’s agent Scott Boras would get involved with the appeal at Weaver’s side. Then, quite unexpectedly this evening, Weaver announced that he was dropping the appeal and had begun serving his suspension that day (Saturday).
I could not be happier about this decision. The chances of Weaver getting any sort of reduction or dismissal in the suspension were practically non-existent and appealing it only accomplished making Weaver’s availability for the next several series, many of them tough, a giant question mark. Certainly this was not helping the Angels any. Weaver’s decision to drop the appeal was motivated by a conversation with Mike Scioscia and a desire to do what’s best for the team. I applaud the decision, which will have him miss his next scheduled start against the Jays by only one day. This is especially helpful considering the next item.
The Unsinkable Joel Pineiro
It’s official. Joel Pineiro’s sinkerball just won’t sink. And what do we call an unsinkable sinkerball boys and girls? Well, the A’s, Orioles, Tigers and Twins called it a big fat meatball so let’s go with that, shall we? After Wednesday’s terrible start against the Twins, Pineiro’s fourth bad start in a row with no sign of improvement, the Angels moved him to the bullpen. It was time. He seems to do okay for the first inning or two, so maybe a few weeks of bullpen work will help him build confidence and find the right arm slot, or whatever, for an eventual return to the starting rotation? I don’t know, but I hope so. Pineiro was very classy about the news, fielding the press’ questions while admitting to his difficulties and accepting the bullpen move gracefully. It sounds stupid, but I was kind of proud of him. That couldn’t have been easy. I’m glad to see him out of the starting rotation for now but I wish him well and hope to see him regain his old form.
The Starting Rotation — We’ll Think About it Tomorrow, We Can Stand it Then?
So what in the heck are the Angels going to do with Pineiro’s spot in the rotation, especially this coming week against the Yankees? Ervin “No Hitter” Santana will take the mound tomorrow and from what I have heard, Dan Haren will dive in for Pineiro on Tuesday in New York…but what happens after that? With Weaver suspended until Saturday in Toronto? That’s a very good question. Supposedly we’re not in the market for arms and will solve the delimma in house with Hisanori Takehashi or Trevor Bell assuming the role for one start with a slight possibility of calling up one of the rookies, though none of them are quite ready it would seem. We’ll see how it goes, but if this is the case, then Tyler Chatwood definitely needs to buckle down and get outs more quickly than in his last few starts. I’ve noticed considerable improvement in his number of base on balls, so I’m sure he’s up for the task.
The Angels and the Curse of the AM830 Cooking Challenge
The Sports Lodge, the morning show on AM830, our local Angels and general sports radio station, began sponsoring an Iron Chef-lite style cooking challenge for charity last year. Various Angels players, coaches and their assistants – wives, SO’s, family members – compete to create an original dish with the winner earning a check for the charity of their choice. It sounds like an absolute blast, complete with a lot of silliness and banter, and even controversy – last year, pitching coach Mike Butcher won with the assistance of his professional chef sister-in-law, leading to the age old question, should there be an asterix next to his title? 😉 One of these years, I have to go. But in the meantime, I can’t help but notice the appearance of a curse hanging over the whole proceedings.
Last season, the player competitors were Joe Saunders, Kevin Jepson, Brandon Wood and Kevin Frandson. What else do these gents have in common? You guessed it. Not a one of them is still playing with the Angels, though Jepsen is at least with the AAA team. This season the cooking challenge winner was Pineiro. Very, very interesting. I actually don’t believe in curses or anything of the sort, but the coincidence seems so obvious to me and no one else is talking about it so I figured I would stir the pot a little…so to speak.
The Return of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels
This is the first Friday Seth and I have both been home, not prepping for a trip or some such and not still working on Friday night in weeks so, of course, the return of the Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) was in order. The game itself was a nail biting mix of the wonderful – Jered Weaver was very much on his game and our defense was stellar – and the frustrating – our offense was pretty much D.O.A. after Mariner’s rookie Trayvon Robinson, in his major league debut no less, made a stellar play robbing Torii Hunter of a two run homer. That kid is going to be something else! Thus the win went to closer Jordan Walden in walk-off fashion – way to go Torii and Vernon Wells! – instead of to the very deserving Weaver, but I’ll take that over a loss any day and I can’t think of anyone who would disagree with me on this front, including, I would imagine, Weaver. So, this week’s spread? Pan roasted salmon salad with dried cherries, feta and a homemade blackberry balsamic vinaigrette, accompanied by Bianchi’s Syranot, a lightly peppery pinot noir, syrah blend. Yum…my.
Friday’s Angels looked much like Monday through Thursday’s Angels, only with much better fielding than on several of the previous days. While this was an improvement, it was not enough to yield a different result and they lost four to two. The Angels aren’t exactly getting killed on the field this season. Most of the losses have been close. But it does go to show that if you aren’t scoring many runs, then your pitching and fielding have to be absolute perfection game in and game out in order to compensate for it, and that just isn’t feasible for any team.
So, cut to last night’s seven to five victory over the Royals. What changed? Several very important things as it turns out:
The veteran bats came alive. I admit it. I was less than pleased when I saw Vernon Wells batting cleanup last night. But he waled on the ball, going three for four with nice solid base hits that moved runners around the bases and lead to Wells scoring a run each time he made it on base. Howie Kendrick also went three for four, with two RBIs. Bobby Abreu had a key hit and he and Torii Hunter worked counts into walks for needed bodies on base. I cannot tell you how nice it was to see all of them on in one game!
We put runners on base and scored runs in multiple innings. If you look at the typical 2011 Angels box score, the one to three runs scored by our heroes usually occur all in one inning, often early in the game and then they don’t score again. This has not been an effective strategy. Last night, the Angels scored four runs in the second – more than their game average already – added a fifth run in the third and then game back to put two runs on the board and regain the lead in the 8th.
Our fielding was stellar. The Angels fielding has been good for most of 2011, but last night it was just on fire and it was equally on fire all around the diamond. Double plays. Two beautiful plays at the plate, including one highlight reel play on a perfect throw from Torii in right. Great catches all over the field and heads up back up.
We stole four bases! Stolen bases is one of many areas where sabermetrics and I have to agree to disagree. A team doesn’t have to be loaded with power hitters to win as long as they know how to consistently manufacture runs. The Angels know how to manufacture runs. This is one of Mike Sciocia’s specialties as a manager. They just haven’t been doing it consistently. Last night, the final two runs were the result of situational hitting, stolen bases and smartly taking advantage of a few Royals mistakes. This is a great sign and hopefully the beginning of a re-emerging trend. Now let’s just hope Alberto Callaspo, who pulled a hamstring during a successful double steal, is able to move from being day to day back to an everday player soon. This injuries trend is one that can stop any day now.
Looking at the season strictly from a numbers standpoint, one win by no means offsets six straight losses, even when the rest of the division helpfully loses again. But I never think numbers tell the whole story, especially in early June. They’re more like a guideline, actually. 😉 This was a good solid win, a pretty win if you will, the end result of several missing pieces coming together for the Angels all at once while other team strengths continued. If the Angels can capitalize on the momentum from this game heading into interleague, I think they can start putting together enough wins for significance from any standpoint!
Friday (and Saturday!) Gourmet, Wine & Angels
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread? Well, the chefs – read, Seth and I – were tired after a long week and indulged in a bit of lazy cooking: grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches with bacon and TJ’s guacamole (hence the lazy). Quick and dirty, but tasty. And the wine was amazing – Mitchella’s 2007 Cabernet which tastes of black currants and dark chocolate. Yum!
We were better rested on Saturday and grilled up a feast for the evening game. Tri-tip, rubbed with olive oil, crushed garlic, cracked black pepper and kosher salt, which my husband grilled to that perfect state where the meat has an amazing crust, but is a gorgeous medium to medium rare throughout when you slice into it. Tri-tip is an absolutely glorious cut of beef that I am sorry to say we Californians have not shared much with the rest of the country. Trust me, you are very sad. You just don’t know it. 😉 We served it with black beans, fresh tortillas and queso fresco and squash lightly sautéed with garlic and black pepper. Paired with Dead Nuts, Chronic Cellars luscious Zinfandel, Petite Sirah blend, it was a fantastic meal…and the Angels won, so if I were inclined to superstitions on that front I would say they prefer us to make more of an effort for the game, LOL.
I suppose I should add an addendum to my Support Your Starting Pitchers plea from the other day. Run support that doesn’t materialize until the 9th inning a) typically does not qualify as supporting your starting pitcher, though I do applaud giving plenty of love to the bullpen too and, b) only really counts if you can actually pull off the win at that point. Scoring early and often is the better way to go – it supports the whole pitching staff equally. I know, I know. If only it were that easy!
So, Thursday. Ugh. What to say? Brett Anderson was on. The Angels’ bats were off. Joel Pineiro didn’t have his greatest start. And the A’s bats were on. It wasn’t a terrible game, but it was hardly a recipe for a win. And so we split the series with the A’s, Texas and Seattle did similar things with the ends of their week and less than two games separated the last place team from the first place team in the division heading into Friday’s games. And that’s just the way it is in the Wild, Wild AL West this season – a little frustrating and very, very exciting! Praise the Angels and pass the defibrillator.
And because I didn’t like Thursday’s game and I’m not liking this evening’s game much at all so far – which we are watching on delay so Seth can see every pitch too per the Friday Night Ritual – Let’s take a step back to Wednesday’s game. I was there. It rocked! Games like Thursday where things are okay but just not quite good enough are going to happen a fair number of times in a season. Here’s hoping that the Angels can play more like they did on Wednesday for the rest of this road trip!
So, Wednesday Ervin Santana was his controlled, nasty best – six strike outs and only one earned run (with six hits and two walks so many thanks to the Angels stellar defense too!)…
…Which means that a lot of A’s batters looked like Daric Barton here, looking back almost confused as the umpire prepares to call a strike:
…Here Josh Willingham finds himself in similar straights:
Of course, Willingham did walk that at-bat and then successfully stole second base, but it was a close play – short stop Erick Aybar waits for Hank Conger’s throwdown:
Our seats were front row of the upper deck again but only a section behind 1st base this time, so I could see into the Angels dugout which was fun for a change. I didn’t take too many pictures of that. I prefer to watch the game, but I did like this one – Jered Weaver and Dan Haren obviously sharing a joke about something, with Tyler Chatwood intent on the game beside them. Perhaps they are saying “Wow, run support. I thought that was only a myth.”:
Of course, this means our seats were right above the A’s dugout. I like this one too because it makes one wonder what they’re talking about. “Hey, Coco. How far did Torii hit that ball?” “It went far Andy. All the way over there.”:
Mark Trumbo dives back to first to avoid the tag from Daric Barton. I’m of two minds about the recent acquisition of Russel Branyan and Trumbo is the reason. On the plus side, Branyan fits in well with the team and could be a nice big bat in our lineup – though based on his batting average it does seem as if he hits homeruns or nothing at all. And he’s cheap, so if he doesn’t work out we can easily release him. But I don’t want to see Trumbo get any less playing time. He’s slumping a little bit at the plate at the moment, but he’ll heat up again and I really, really like his reflexes, glove and intelligence at first:
This game also saw scrappy utility player Reggie Willits get his first hit for the season (two swings after this one) and a crucial early sacrifice bunt as well. Reggie spent most of Spring Training and part of April on the DL for hamstring issues and has taken awhile to get back into the swing of things…so to speak. Peter Bourjos, in the on deck circle behind Reggie, also snapped a hitless streak Wednesday:
Rookie Alexi Amarista takes a nice swing. Playing second for the evening, Amarista had a heck of a game too. He went two for three at the plate and his uniform is quite clay covered in this photo from diving all over the field playing a very acrobatic human ball trap all night – yet another Angels rookie I am thrilled to have on the team this season. I wish I had photos of his diving catches at second:
Jordan Walden and Rich Thompson warm up in the bullpen. Hats off to the bullpen this game! Scott Downs had another great outing. I love having him on the team this season and am instantly reassured when I hear 8 Second Ride start to play and know he’ striding up to the mound. Rodney also had a nice outing. Apparently the key is to start warming up another reliever the second he walks someone:
Jordan Walden on the mound. Believe it or not, this was the first time I have seen Walden pitch live. For better or worse depending on the game, I have not been present for any save situations this season. Very, very impressive! Walden changed his walk-up music for this homestand. He used to emerge from the bullpen to the classic guitar riff from Smoke on the Water now it’s Robb Zombie’s Dragula. I love Deep Purple, but I have to say I approve. Robb Zombie is a little more bad ass, which is what this young closer is rapidly becoming:
I don’t have any good Torii Hunter photos from the game itself, which is a shame because he had a great game between the homerun (immediately followed by a homerun from Alberto Callaspo!) and a couple of great plays in right that are just so many blurs on my camera. So we’ll go with this photo of his much deserved post-game interview:
This is a very simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball…except when it’s pouring rain and even making the simplest of catches or making contact with the fattest of meatball pitches can become fodder for a Keystone Cops remake. So Friday’s 4 – 3 victory against the White Sox was interesting, entertaining, maddening at times, and very, very wet – seriously, my hat is off to all of those tough Chicago fans who stayed for the whole game – but ultimately a win! This breaks the Angels seven game losing streak against the White Sox which makes me very happy indeed.
Jered Weaver did not have one of his better games but a less than great start for Weaver is still a pretty darned good start in the grand scheme of things and, when the Angels give him run support as they did last night, is usually enough to secure a victory. I was a little worried in the third inning, after he gave up a handful of hits and the infield and outfield each blew a play in rain aided, blooper reel worthy fashion. But then he stalked, nay stomped, off the mound with a string of curses at himself that required no lip reading expertise to interpret and I knew we’d be okay. When Weaver gets angry, he usually channels it back into the pitching with wicked effect.
The Angels still need to work on RISP and some guys had quiet bats, but Maicer Izturis was on fire, going 3 for 5 with a two RBI double. Mark Trumbo continues to hit well. Vernon Wells found his bat for the second game in a row and Peter Bourjos continues to show how speed can create a hit where you didn’t think one was possible. I got a kick of Mike Scioscia and Mike Butcher basically overriding the umpires’ second, hesitant, rain delay call in the bottom of the ninth, sending the Angels back out into the field to warm-up and even tossing Jordan Walden a baseball themselves until the umpires changed their mind and told the grounds crew to stop rolling out the tarp they only just wrestled into position.
So, about the Angels’ bullpen? I am sitting here icing my knee after the Saturday edition of my thrice weekly beating as I type this and I. Hate. Ice. Hate it. I do the ten minutes on, ten minutes off thing for an hour several therapist friends recommend because I can see the therapeutic benefits, but it never fails. The burn gets so stabbingly painful that I want to start clawing the furniture and chucking the ice bag across the room at nine minutes on the dot. Every. Single. Time. And, yet, I still think I would rather spend large parts of the 8th inning in a complete ice bath than watch Fernando Rodney play 8th inning set up guy again. I keep hearing how much Rodney has improved since he adjusted his mechanics but I am not seeing it. No, he didn’t allow a run, but he walked a guy and allowed a hit and we had to get the last two outs with runners on 2nd and 3rd. But, he got out of the inning and then Jordan Walden went one, two, three. It’s a wonderful new feeling to have a closer who closes.
Even with the rain abetted clumsiness and eight inning drama, it was a fun game to watch and this Friday saw the “season premiere” of Seth’s and my Friday Night Ritual – a nice dinner, a good bottle of wine and the Angels game, usually on delay so our commutes dont deny us a single pitch. This Fridays spread? Gourmet a’la lazy chefs – crostini with pea mint pesto or mushroom tapenade, prosciutto and apples with Chronic Cellars’ excellent red blend Sofa King Bueno chosen because the Chronic guys aren’t lying. The wine really is Sofa King Bueno.
And now the ice is finally off my knee – Yay!!! – and I am ready to enjoy watching what the new kid can do on the mound in his second start. Play Ball! …when the rain stops of course.