A good friend wanted to celebrate her birthday in style this weekend, so she got the lot of us passes to the Magic Castle on Saturday. I know what you’re thinking – cheesy fortune tellers and kid’s birthday party tricks. I thought as much myself before I went the first time, but the reality is quite different. Housed in a gorgeous pre-World War I era mansion tucked into the Hollywood Hills, the Magic Castle is the headquarters for the Academy of Magical Arts and a truly decadent private club. A luxurious setting, an elegant meal, cocktail servers who never let your glass go empty if you let them, and the magicians, wow! My favorite part of all of it is the close-up rooms – card tricks, coin tricks, ring magic, rope tricks and the like all performed to perfection mere feet away. The magician might as well be sitting on the other side of the dining room table from you if you are lucky enough to sit in the front row.
There aren’t very many new tricks in the world really, just infinitely innovative riffs on classic tricks. But the variations and personal stamps each magician puts on these tricks are where I think the true artistry lies. Take the 11 $1 bill trick, as it was first described to me. I have seen it performed many ways by many different names, on Saturday for example, it was performed by a magician from my home town as the 4 card trick. But I have never seen it performed so well as the 11 $1 bill trick so I will use that variation as my example. The magician performing this trick always invites a member of the audience to assist him. When I saw the trick, the assistant was Mike, a good friend of mine, and the rest of us were sitting in the front row, close enough to reach out a touch the dollars ourselves.
The Magician took a simple wallet out of his pocket and counted out the contents, 11 $1 bills, into Mike’s skeptical hand and invited him to look over each bill carefully. He then invited Mike to investigate the wallet to prove that is was empty and Mike did so thoroughly. The magician set the empty wallet on the table in plain view and asked Mike to count the stack of bills back to the magician. 11 $1 bills. Then the magician counted them back into Mike’s hand – 11 $1 bills – and asked Mike to count the stack back into his hand again. Only now, suddenly, Mike could only count 10 $1 bills. Surely Mike was mistaken, the Magician said and counted the stack back into Mike’s hand. 11 $1 bills. Try it again, he asked. So Mike counted the stack back into the Magician’s hand. 9 $1 bills. No, the Magician said there are 11 and counted them back into Mike’s hand. 11 $1 bills. Mike counted them back to the magician again. 8 $1 bills.
Ah, said the magician. I know what happened. And he picked the wallet up off the table, opened it up and removed 3 $1 bills! This trick then continued for some time with several variations. The 11 $1 bills grew in number to 15 and shrank and low as 6 until eventually Mike was asked to investigate the offending wallet again, which he did even more thoroughly, and put the empty wallet into his own pocket himself. In the end, Mike could only count 7 $1 dollars back to the magician again and the remaining three were, you guessed it, inside the wallet he had tucked into his own pocket. I am difficult to impress. I look for the misdirection, glance at places the magician is de-emphasizing, and try to see that which I am not supposed to see. Every now and then I see a bent card, the hidden coin or a few of the torn pieces of whatever disappearing, but not this time. I have the vaguest of ideas what the magician might have done, but damned if I could catch him at it. Magic? Of course not. Not in the Harry Potter/Walt Disney/Gandalf the Grey sense, at least. But definitely a gifted artist giving a brilliant demonstration of his craft, and what could be more magical than that?
Anyway, does the 11 $1 bill trick remind you of anything? Yes, exactly. The Angels standings in the AL West. Twenty days ago, the Angels only had to count a mere 1.5 games out of first back to the Rangers. But then they went to New York and Toronto, and entertained a visit from the Rangers themselves, and when the Rangers counted games back to the Angels, the stack grew to 5 games, then 6 games, then 7. But just when the audience expected them to count back 8 games, Mark Trumbo hit that walk off homerun and showed the Rangers that 2 of those games had magically disappeared from the stack.
After pulling several bats and a rookie outfielder seemingly out of thin air, the Angels took on Baltimore and Chicago and were able to count a mere 2 games back to the Rangers again…Boston may have helped with that a little. And then the counting began in earnest in Texas. The Rangers dazzled the Angels by making baseballs disappear over fences and counted 3 games back into the Angels palm. Then the Angels discovered the secret of the disappearing baseball trick themselves, Ervin Santana turned three days rest and grit into a win and the team counted 2 games back to the Rangers. This feat caused me to respond with a trick of my own and magically pull a Droid out of my small, elegant little evening bag to check the score several times on Saturday. However, Jered Weaver was unable to match Santana’s impressive prestidigitation, the Angels fielding moved out of the magic shop and into the novelty store, and suddenly the Rangers counted 3 games in the stack again.
The Angels have 29 games left, 3 of them against Texas, and I can’t help but feel they have a few more tricks up their sleeves. Provided the bats continue to obligingly reappear or, better yet, no one makes them disappear in the first place, I predict that the number of games in this particular stack is going to go up and down several more times before someone is eventually able to pull a division title out of the wallet on the table. The feat is hardly impossible, but if the Angels are able to cinch the division win, it will be one stylish trick indeed – even more enjoyable than the 11 $1 bill trick and even more impressive than my own little trick of walking and standing around the Magic Castle for seven hours in three inch heels with nary a blister to show for it. 😉
The 2011 Angels can’t score to save their lives and they can’t hit when it counts. Veteran bats have only come alive in alternating streaks all season – much like Torii Hunter’s slumbering bat waking with a vengeance into his current 15-game hitting streak – and the rookies and the gap hitters are pretty much carrying the line-up. The problem with that is that we can get guys on base, but we can’t bring them home, facts I haven’t shied away from mentioning all season.
And yet, the Angels have been in the thick of the division race, winning series and beating top teams all season long pretty much on the strength of their pitching and fielding alone. Two weeks ago, we were a mere game out of first place! So what happens when the pitching inevitably falters for a few games? Last week happens, with the disastrous road trip to Toronto and the Bronx. And if the fielding gets lax too? Well, then you have what could have been a season making series against the Texas Rangers turn into what we’ve seen on the field instead the last few days – something that could very well be season breaking if the Angels don’t pull it together and play their hearts out from tonight on through the rest of the season.
Another end result is that I, consummate baseball optimist, constant cheerleader and the self-proclaimed Pollyanna of Angels baseball actually started to despair for a few minutes Tuesday night. Tuesday was my husband’s birthday and his boss gave him the company seats, the OMG! company seats, on the field, in the first section on the dangerous side of the home plate screens, 10 rows back from the action. Awesome boss, yes? But sitting there, seemingly inches from the field, watching Erick Aybar lazily glance at the second playable line drive in as many innings shoot uncontested into the outfield for extra bases, in a game where our young starter was clearly struggling and needed all the backup he could get, I thought, “Well, that’s it then. If the Angels have just given up, the season is over.”
In fact, I think I waited this long to post our photos from the game, indeed anything about the Rangers series, in the hopes that Wednesday would give me something more cheerful to talk about. No dice. At least the lollygagging fielding was over by Wednesday, but not the gaffs. Balls were being thrown all kinds of places that weren’t anywhere near a glove. Erick Aybar decided to make an effort again for us Wednesday, but alternated between not being able to keep balls in his glove and not being able to get them out in time to actually throw them – which given the throwing situation might, in hindsight, have been a blessing in disguise, I don’t know – all night. Santana pitched a great game, but with the usual insufficient run support, and now with insufficient defense, it’s no surprise we lost.
So, are we done? The commentators all seem to think so. This was an important series, no doubt about it. We could be. If we can pull tonight off, we’re still six games out of first place in mid-August and that’s a tall order. But I did say my moment of despair was brief and, like it’s underlying message, I’m not giving up unless the Angels have given up…and even then I probably won’t give up unless winning becomes a mathematical impossibility, not a mere improbability, an impossibility. I’m stubborn like that. Monday and Tuesday notwithstanding, I don’t think the Angels have given up. Wednesday they still played badly but there were improvements – our pitching was back on track and the defense was at least hustling. And, here’s the thing. We were only one game out of first two weeks ago with only a handful of head to head games against the Rangers under our belt. We have seven more coming up including tonight. So, come on Angels, this division just got a whole lot tougher, but it’s still winnable.
So, tonight and going forward through August and September, we need to see a lot less of this – big bats taking knocking our pitching for extra bases -:
And a lot more of this, namely Angels in scoring position who then actually score and Angels on the base paths who just earned RBIs. And, I know I’m being extra, extra demanding here, but how about in several of the innings leading up to the 9th inning too?:
We need to start hitting pitchers who are hittable, and not right into double plays either. Derek Holland pitched a good game, but he was hittable:
No more injuries please!!! Everyone stay healthy:
It’s unfair to but so much pressure on our starting pitching, but that’s just the way things are this season, especially with the #4 spot in the rotation in such a state of flux, the rest of the rotation needs to be lights out as often as possible. With Garrett Richards unfortunately timed injury, they’re reinstating Joel Pineiro as a starter…oooooh boy. I just don’t know about that one. Prove me wrong, okay Joel? And the bullpen needs to be equally spot on. So why did we send this guy back to AAA?:
And why do we keep putting this guy in, in crucial situations? Tuesday was fine. Fernando Rodney pitches best when we’re already behind and don’t want to fall further behind, but I still don’t like seeing him take the mound:
And the fielding needs to be error free and full of hustle:
Do you ever have one of those days where odd things seem to parallel your mood or activities? You think of a song and change the station on the radio only to find that song? Or a coworker randomly starts the same conversation you just had that morning with your mom? Does this ever seem to happen with the baseball team you follow? Saturday, was my husband’s birthday “observed” – as opposed to Tuesday, his actual birthday, when we have tickets for the company seats at the Big A, whoo hoo! We hosted a pizza party/game night in his honor, so I knew that, between the prep, the party and the clean-up, I wasn’t going be able to pay as much attention to the Angels play as I would like to. Little did I know the Angels themselves wouldn’t be paying much attention to their play this weekend. Yikes!
The baseball/life parallel was a beautiful thing on Friday night. We cleaned the house and I baked a dark chocolate cake. Making this cake is as much about technique as it is about the recipe. If you cream the butter and sugar long enough and take a sufficiently light, careful hand with the folding, you have an almost ethereally light, fluffy cake. Fold too quickly or too long, or outright mix the batter, and you develop the glutens to the point where you basically have bread. A nice calm no doubter of a game was just what the doctor ordered.
Melt the chocolate, blend, combine. Vernon Wells hits a homerun. Dry ingredients, buttermilk, whipped egg whites, gently fold. Ervin Santana going strong. Back until the cake is springy to the touch. Double play to finish the game. Howie to Aybar to Tumbo. Light that baby up. And now let’s finish mopping the floor. Excellent. Great Friday! And can I just say that between their humorous sign campaign response to the sign stealing accusations and their classy welcome for Vernon Wells, I love Blue Jays fans!
Saturday, however, the whole baseball/life parallel thing started to suck. Big time. Yes, I needed to chop and prep all of the pizza toppings. Yes, I needed to make the double vanilla, cream cheese icing for the cake and that involves whipping thick ingredients. Yes, Seth had to work so I was on my own and frustrations from the game lead me to chop and whip with greater…hmmm…shall we say efficiency. But come on Angels, I didn’t need that kind of help! I’m strong lady. I can chop onions, mushrooms, garlic and the like in a good mood, would have preferred to in fact.
I was concerned about this particular Jered Weaver start heading into the game anyway. He doesn’t pitch as well when circumstances muck up the rotation. Just like in May, when illness delayed his start, Weaver seemed to come back throwing too hard and with less control after his extra rest. And for a guy who lives by pinpoint precision against a hot hitting Blue Jays team on yet another day where the Angels own bats stood still? My recipes were on the right track. This recipe, however, was one for disaster. And Pineiro’s two innings on top of it all? Ouch. Clearly he’s not working anything out in the bullpen. Is he injured? Is it psychological? Would Dave Duncan consent to maybe call and whisper to him over the phone? I got nothin’. But then I had the birthday party and a house full of people, wine to pour, pizzas on the grill and a really great time, all perfect distractions from any thoughts of Angels.
So, Sunday this would have to end right? We capped off a thoroughly decadent late night with a thoroughly decadent morning – sleeping in until first pitch and then lounging on the sofa to watch a good match up with a breakfast of leftover prosciutto pizza with blue cheese, apples and caramelized onions. And the beginning was great. Torii Hunter’s homerun. Dan Haren was dealing. Peter Bourjos smokin’ down the base paths. But it was not to be. After the game I could see one more parallel. I had a really happy Saturday night, and I was feeling it Sunday morning to a certain extent, hence the lounging. But some of the Angels and Mike Scioscia, love him though I do, must have had an even happier Saturday night. How else do you explain Bobby and Trumbo’s base running in the 9th? Or Scioscia’s decision to go to Fernando Rodney in the 10th?
The parallels, however, have to end now. See, Seth and I are going to be enjoying pizza, cake and other party leftovers easily until Thursday, but the Angels better not be keeping too many leftovers from their weekend. Torii’s hitting streak. Bobby’s reemerging bat. The fielding perhaps. The fact that Jered Weaver is such a stud, that even after giving up eight runs in less than five innings on Saturday, he still has the lowest E.R.A. and the third lowest WHIP in the majors. These are good leftovers to keep. But the lack of clutch, the inconsistent bats and the scary bullpen moments? Leave them on the road. The Rangers are coming to town for a four game series and with this disastrous road trip the Angels are four games behind them. This isn’t the last stand of the season right here, right now but it sure is time to get serious about winning again.
Taking the mound Wednesday morning for the Angels and Indians rubber match, Ervin Santana did his best to make absolutely certain no pre-game write-up will ever discuss his history of failure against Cleveland again. I’d say he was successful. Wouldn’t you? 😉
Santana’s first win against Cleveland was only MLB’s third no-hitter this season, the first of his own career, and the Angels first solo no-hitter since Mike Witt pitched his perfect game against the Rangers in 1984. (Witt and Mark Langston combined for a no-hitter against the Mariners in 1990). I tell you, there are serious perks to having the number three guy in your starting rotation be of such a high caliber that when he has his control, he could be the number two or even number one guy on a lot of team’s pitching staffs. The Angels may not have the Phillys Four Aces, but you’ve got to love two aces, two not quite aces and one ace in training. Won’t get you much at the poker table, it’s true, but in the AL, it could get you pretty far indeed.
Congratulations Ervin! Very well deserved! What a personal accomplishment and what an accomplishment for the team! And well we’re at it, let’s not forget the rest of the team who helped get Santana there – Santana certainly didn’t forget them in his always humble comments after the game. Special recognition should be given to Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter, Howie Kendrick and Mike Trout for their bats. Torii, Howie, Bourjos and Mark Trumbo for their defense and Bobby Wilson for calling one heck of great game. The Angels have now won three series in a row and 11 of their last 14 series. And the Twins appear to have taken my Glamour List – The Baseball Edition #10 to heart, so today is a very good day indeed. 🙂
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I’ve mentioned once or twice in this blog that my husband and I sometimes refer to Santana as Hobbes. Well, stills from today’s no-hitter game footage, finally allow me to explain myself with a few helpful visual aids. Check this out.
Mild mannered, affable, everyday teammate with one of the sweetest, most endearing smiles in the majors:
With game face firmly in place:
Just remember, who kicked the most behind at Calvinball? That’s right. Not Calvin. Hobbes did. Coincidence? I think not!
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One more reason why I wish I had played hooky and stayed home to watch this game, out of a very, very long list? (Yeah right, like I’ve ever been that irresponsible in my entire life, sigh.) Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout playing together in the same outfield, with Bourjos in center and Trout in left, batting one behind the other in the same line-up. I managed to listen to the radio for Bourjos’ triple – man, that kid can fly! – immediately followed by Trout’s veteran quality battle with the pitcher culminating in a sacrifice fly to deep right center and a game tying RBI. And I got chills. Seriously. It was like the best teaser trailer for the Angels 2012 season ever. Ever.
We’re in the last few days of July and, aside from a few lumps and bumps, the Angels are doing pretty well – Monday’s game notwithstanding. Comfortably above .500. Four games out of first place in the AL West. Ten and two in their last 12 series. Not bad for a team most of the talking heads were predicting would be deeply entrenched in the third or even fourth place spot at this point in the season.
However, even with all of August and September still left to play, the distance between the Rangers and the Angels isn’t moving in the right direction anywhere near quickly enough or consistently enough for the comfort of Angels fans. Giant sweeping changes are unnecessary. As I said, the Angels are playing pretty good ball. But, having watched far more games than not this season, I can’t help but notice certain key things the Angels could be doing that they just aren’t doing. Clearly, they must not know it’s okay. This is the only reasonable explanation. 😉
So, for the Angels education – and for your entertainment – in the style of that paragon of good information and insightful advice, Glamour Magazine, (Come on ladies, you know there’s nothing like a fashion magazine for a little guilty pleasure, comic relief. Come on gents, you know most of you have snuck a curious peak at an S.O.’s or sister’s stash at one point or another.) I present:
the glamour list – baseball edition
10 Things That Really Are Okay, Encouraged Even:
Scoring runs before we have two outs on the board.
Scoring runs before the 7th inning stretch.
Hitting homeruns at home too.
Lengthy, unbroken winning streaks.
Keeping opposing team runners off the bases between the second and third outs.
Heck, while we’re at it, sitting the other team down 1, 2, 3.
Being aggressive on the base paths…without being aggressively stupid on the base paths.
Disappointing rookies…opposing team rookies that is. Really, it’s not unsportsmanlike if you hit their pitches, make it hard for them to catch the ball and, you know, not allow them walk-off first hits.
Taking over 1st place early and never letting it go.
Teams other than the Angels beating the Texas Rangers…Okay, so this one isn’t for the Angels so much as the rest of the AL but, really guys, it’s okay. Any. Day. Now.
So the Marlins. Well they sure are nice and heating up now, aren’t they? This is just one more service we provide here at the Big A. Blah. But it did make for a pretty good game, really, and in the end the Angels were victorious…victorious and shocked out of their “okay we scored in one early inning, now we’re done for the game” habit so I am pretty happy out here in California. And Wow! Mark Trumbo is a beast, and rapidly becoming a clutch beast at that. I miss Kendrys, but Trumbo’s season is helping to keep me from completely pining away.
There are but two real flies in my ointment. Torii. Oh Torii! Speaking of beasts. If you haven’t seen the highlight reel yet, Torii Hunter made a spectacular Torii Hunter catch against the Marlins right center wall…running as hard as he could into the Marlins right center wall. This wasn’t a situation of Torii forgetting where the wall was. You could tell from his expression as he began his running jump into the wall, that he knew right where it was. But that was what was required to catch the ball. So he caught the ball, slammed into the wall and crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain, all while holding his glove up with the ball displayed so there was no doubt. He even argued with Mike Scioscia to stay in the game. Some nights, Chuck Norris wears Torii Hunter pajamas.
Understandably, Torii is now day to day. The x-rays were negative but he bruised up the same area he bruised going over the wall against the Yankees and took a pick-off attempt throw to in one of the earlier Marlins games. Hey, I know. Maybe we should ban outfield walls and pick-off throws, because players could get serious bruises and stuff… </ sarcasm > The other fly? We have several very consistent reliable arms in our bullpen but have also regained a few inconsistent arms through DL-necessitated player transactions and it’s starting to show. Something to work on. And now it’s back to California to conclude the Four Corners Road Trip against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium:
I am excited. Freeway Series games have such energy and are a ton of fun. My husband and I are making the trek out the 5 freeway for Saturday’s game. Tyler Chatwood will take the mound for the Angels and Hiroki Kuroda will take the mound for the Dodgers and I will take a ton of photos. Hmmm, two pitchers with chronic lack of run support. This could get interesting. We’re even supposed to meet fellow blogger Emma from Crzblue’s Dodger Blue World, so much fun is in store…provided my sore throat gets the message that it is on serious notice and at least improves. I see my future and it involves more black tea, honey and lemon juice. It is a truly vile, syrupy, acidic concoction whose vileness, alas, is only exceeded by its effectiveness…and did I mention that it makes me whine? 😉
Fan Hide and Seek Night at the Sun Life Stadium
For the last several seasons, I have been hearing how low attendance is at Marlins games, but I had to see it for myself to really understand it. I realize that it was a weeknight and they had recently lost 11 in a row, but I swear there were more fans in the field box sections bordering the infield alone, at Fenway Park at 2am near the end of that marathon, extra innings, multiple rain delayed game we played in Boston in early May. I was flabbergasted.
And I mean this in no way as mockery of Marlins fans. The Marlins fans that were at the game were loud and passionate sounding…and you could hear every word each individual fan was saying, the stadium was so empty. And I am sure there were many more Marlins fans watching the game on TV. No, this is just my way of saying, wow. That visual, as much as the years-long abandoned construction projects, blocks with multiple foreclosure vacancies and acquaintances in the double digits who have been unemployed for a year or more, reminded me that while we are seeing signs of economic improvement, we are still stuck in this thing and we are going to be for a long, long time.
Friday, the Angels reached stop number two on the Four Corners Road Trip and returned to Interleague play with a bang. Joel Pinero notched his 100th career win as the Angels bested the Mets in a tight four to three victory. Both teams played well and the outcome was a question mark right up to the last pitch. The Angels bats were out in full force and clutch with men in scoring position. Torii Hunter, Maicer Izturis and Howie Kendrick all had a multiple hit game. Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells also contributed to the hit parade. Most importantly, every time the Mets scored, the Angels were able to score in response. That hasn’t exactly been a given this season, a big part of the reason we’re still below .500.
The defense was pretty good as well. Another highlight reel Bourjos catch up against the wall in center. A couple of great plays at first. We have got to work on keeping the other guys from stealing though, even though players like Jose Reyes are smart, fast and dangerous on the base paths. Fortunately, Pinero had a good start and kept the sinker ball down and the Bullpen did their thing with only minimal hiccoughs. Jordan Walden had us all on pins and needles when he walked the first two batters, but then he let the ice water back into his veins and struck out the next three in a row to earn the 16th save of his rookie season.
So what happened Saturday? Well, let’s just say there are a lot of very satisfied goats walking around the Bronx right now. (Note to self, “if my husband laughs” is probably not the best barometer there is for appropriate. 😉 ) Without the benefit of the DH option, in order to get Bobby Abreu back into the lineup (good idea), we put our weakest outfield configuration on the field (bad idea). Abreu, Wells and Hunter all alone in that giant Citi Field outfield without Bourjos’ speed? Very bad idea.
Then, Russell Branyan replaced Mark Trumbo at first in the starting lineup for reasons unbeknownst to me – can’t we declare Branyan a cheap, failed experiment already? – and Erick Aybar proceeded to have one of those, fortunately rare, games when you wonder where his head is at and what joker oiled his glove with Vaseline. The official record shows only one error, but I watched every play and the Mets scorekeepers were extremely generous in this regard. Dan Haren had a bad night and the umpire’s strike zone was doing him no favors. And with few exceptions, the team could not hit – Mark Trumbo, a late innings replacement going two for two with one deep homerun to right center, was our only highlight.
“Which is more important, a strong offense or a strong defense?” is one of those questions whose answer varies with every team and every season. For the Angels this season, the offense doesn’t seem to be in a position to weigh in on that argument no matter what tweaks Scioscia might make to the lineup. In this situation, every single run is a big deal. Ours and theirs. If we aren’t going to give the pitchers run support then we absolutely have to put the best possible defense out on the field every day. No more Branyan at first and leaving speed out of the outfield…oh, and when Aybar is having one of those games? Pull him. So, on to the rubber match, where I hope to see a lineup that reflects our best defense, and then on to Miami:
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Happy Father’s Day to all of the wonderful dads out there, and especially to mine!
Daddy, softball coach, friend, confidant, giver of hugs, encourager of dreams and occasional shoulder to cry on, like most fathers, mine has worn many, many hats, and all of them much better than he will ever know. My father gave me my head for trivia, my irreverent sense of humor, my stubborn streak, my love of music, John Steinbeck and Mark Twain, my blue eyes and freckles and so much more. He taught me the value of working hard, the power of a good laugh and if the ball falls into your glove, never look surprised. And my love for the game? Well, as with so many things that are wonderful, I owe that to both my father and my mother. Thank you does not even begin to cover it, but it will have to do.