Back to back wins. Now that is the way to end our season match-ups against the Red Sox! Wednesday night was downright magical. I am used to watching the Angels east coast games on delay, so it was a nice treat for me, if not for the players, to hear that the game was just resuming from a 2 and a half hour rain delay as I was turning off the freeway from my evening commute. So we got to watch a full game’s worth of innings live – that game went late! Then today, to catch snippets of the game on the radio and know that my tired Angels were apparently a lot less tired that the Red Sox with Pawtucket reinforcements? Well, that was even better.
Coming home to watch losses on Monday and Tuesday was just a downer. I wasn’t particularly down on the Angels season prospects, mind you. Outside of games involving teams from Boston (and Kansas City) they’ve been playing really well this season. But getting pummeled is always a downer, especially when you know the outcome could have been different.
These last two games though? Wow! Heads up plays. Stellar pitching. Bats, bats and more bats! Hey, this visiting team on the field? They looked suspiciously like my Angels! Way to go guys! Way to recover. And, Mr. Vernon Wells, I am glad to see you get your swagger back, sir, and deservedly so. Seriously, another home run over the monster. A couple of great plays against the monster. And I love the way he runs the bases when he’s on a roll. Just when I think he was a little too daring, he reaches the bag standing up or with an unhurried slide just ahead of the ball. Of course, when I talk about base running, I have to mention Peter Bourjos, who recovered nicely from two bad games and lit up the basepaths – and, apparenlty, Kevin Youkilis! – with his speed.
Torii’s hitting again, warming up with the summer weather as predicted – even though it was cold and wet in Boston. Heck, everyone was hitting these last two games, including Bobby Abreu with the game winning hit among others, and Mark Trumbo with another shot over the monster. I have to give love to the bullpen too, which more than rose to the occasion. I am starting to love seeing Scott Downs and Rich Thompson striding out to the mound. And Trevor Bell was lights out, shutting Boston down for the last four innings Wednesday. And the fielding! Did anyone else see the play at the plate? Perfect throws from Wells and Aybar to Jeff Mathis at the plate who positioned his feet and body so perfectly, that he rolled Marco Scutaro with the tag and brought his sliding feet to a halt against Mathis’s own feet three inches shy of the plate. And the way, Mathis then popped up instantaneously to stare Youkilis down at second. Chills. I have a major soft spot for catchers, as I may have mentioned in this blog a time or ten, so this was my favorite play of the series – absolutely gorgeous to watch.
So, do I think this means the Angels are past their troubles with the Red Sox and can play them on even footing from now on? Would that I could say yes, but I think the weird, uneven rivalry goes back too far for that. However, this is a great start. It leaves the team in the right mood going into their next home stand and sets the proper tone for all future encounters with the dreaded Red Sox – who I was amused to hear serenading Youkilis with Biz Markie’s Just a Friend at every at bat. Now that’s man-crushing open and unrestrained, and quirky to boot, and I have to admire them for that, even as the incongruity of it all amused me to no end.
I was a little worried going into this series. Yes, the Rays started the season badly, but I knew that wasn’t going to continue. They have been hot, hot, hot lately – just ask the Twins – and David Prince was on the mound. But, even amid the concern, I just couldn’t imagine Ervin Santana going any longer without a win. Fortunately, that turned out to be the better instinct. Congratulations on your first win of the season, Ervin, and here’s to many more. You earned it and man were you due – see, the guys can show you love with run support too, especially when you don’t botch it with a bunch of walks. Whooo hoo!
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread: Tapas, Tempranillo y beisbol. I was in a really good mood today and felt like playing in the kitchen, so we had quite the array of tapas to nibble on during the game – garlic sherry mushrooms; orange, rosemary and pimento marinated olives; bacon wrapped dates; costini with ricota, Spanish chorizo, arugula and a balsamic reduction; and oranges. Hey, it’s dinner for the rest of the weekend too and it succeeded in relaxing my husband who’s had a rough couple of weeks continuing to find a cubicle seat every time the music stops at work. The Tempranillo is from Paso Robles’ Bodega de Edgar, who specializes in Spanish varietals, thus securing the continuing affections of my wallet. And let me just say that it’s a good thing we have Pilates so early on Saturday, because I have Edgar’s Garancha and Albarino in the closet too and the way the game looked like it was going after those errors in the third inning, opening a few more bottles was starting to sound like a mighty fine idea.
Before and after the third inning bobbles though – two hands please Erick, two hands -things settled down into a great tight game with the Angels ultimately emerging victorious – my favorite kind. Santana pitched a good game – less walks, more Ks and quick outs. There was no keeping Ben Zobrist off of the base paths, but at least Santana held him to one hit and one walk with no RBIs. The Angels’ bats recovered nicely from their one day longer than necessary vacation. Almost everyone had multiple hits – Bobby Abreau, Torri Hunter, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Alberto Callaspo. Trumbo’s homerun was a monster, absolutely beautiful to see. Everyone else had a hit except Jeff Mathis – come on Jeff, we know you can hit. Pretend they’re all postseason games against the Yankees, please.
Howie and Trumbo, each playing their more natural position again, and Bourjos all had great defensive games. Wells made a great play at the end. Fernando Rodney, gave us all a heart attack when his first pitch turned into a BJ Upton homerun, but mostly settled down and got the three outs we needed with only one additional hit so, yay. Jordan Walden has recovered nicely from his last appearance in which he recieved his first blown save and loss. He earned his fourth save of the season this evening, allowing only one hit. Double yay!
Our pitchers are finally starting to come back from the DL! Scott Downs pitched one inning tonight almost up to his usual level after a nasty, persistent stomach virus – one K, one walk, no hits, not runs. Joel Pinero takes the mound for the first time this season tomorrow and I loved his interview this evening. He sounds excited by the feats of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and eager to get out there and see what he can contribute. Heck, I can’t wait for him to be fully up to his usual level. Best of luck to you tomorrow Joel! …and kindly wrap yourself in protective bubble wrap after the game. Thanks ever so. 😉
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.
Now that was a fun game. Jered Weaver pitched his first complete game of the season, allowing only one run and remains…you know…I think I’m just going to leave that sentence unfinished. You all understand. Anyway, it was a good game all around. Matt Harrison pitched through hitless innings until the Angels figured him out. And then? Howie Kendrick sent another one into the stands. He’s currently sharing the AL homerun leader’s spot in good company – in a three way tie with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Maicer Izturis continued his hitting streak. He is currently the AL batting average leader. Peter Bourjos hit a triple and made another highlight reel catch in centerfield just for good measure. Jeff Mathis got a hit.
Vernon Wells hit his first homerun in an Angels uniform with his dad at the stadium to see it. I imagine feeling like you have the chance to show off and make your folks proud doesn’t ever get old, even for a major league baseball player. It was touching to see the camaraderie in the dugout as the team first gave Wells the silent treatment – with barely suppressed grins and shaking shoulders – usually reserved for rookies and then mobbed him, all smiles and laughter, to extend their congratulations. I think that clubhouse chemistry is one of the more important intangibles and I am thrilled to see so much of it in the Angels this season.
And now? Ah, first place. Alone at last. 😉 But, as we all know, it’s only April, there’s a lot of baseball left to play and here come the Red Sox. While I was never one of the folks who expected this Red Sox team to win 100 games, I certainly don’t expect them to stay well below .500 for the season either. They are a much better team than their initial play indicated and have extra incentive to prove it as soon as possible. There’s a lot of history between the Red Sox and the Angels and it usually inspires both teams to…well…to put a polite spin on things, to play just that much harder. I am nervous and excited for this series and set to watch a couple of great match-ups starting this evening when young Tyler Chatwood goes head to head with Josh Beckett.
I have already removed the Dropkick Murpheys CD from my car for what will probably be the rest of the month in anticipation. Yes, this is my “superstitious” fan quirk. I don’t have a lucky shirt. I don’t have specific things I eat before or during games. But I can’t bring myself to listen to music closely associated with a certain teams while we’re playing that team. It’s not really a superstitious thing. I don’t think the Angels will lose if I slip in the odd Fields of Athenry here or there when the Red Sox are in town. It just feels really disloyal. Even though I have preferred my punk to come with bagpipes since long before Papelbon went Shipping Up to Boston. So, cue the Train and let’s play ball.
It was quite the busy weekend at my house. In addition to the usual Pilates class and errands, we made pickled red onions, scoured the house, rearranged the furniture upstairs and did a lot of sweeping…oh, yeah, wait. That last part? That wasn’t Seth and I. That was the Angels!! 😉
Sorry for the brief bragging indulgence but, did you see us play last season? I think we can all agree, I’m due. So, suffice to say, it was a good weekend. Tyler Chatwood? I was a little apprehensive about his second major league start, especially when he’s definitely pitching to contact and the While Sox can hit. But, wow, can the kid pitch! And what confidence and poise on the mound. If he starts getting hit, he regroups, recovers and moves on. Can we keep him Sosh? Pleeeeeease. Can we? Can we?!
Another weekend revelation? Hel-lo Hank Conger. After Spring Training, Conger stayed on the 25-man roster primarily because of the large number of Angels on the DL. Everyone has been referring to him as the Angels third catcher, the assumption being that when a few of the regular players come off the DL, Hank will go back to the Bees, leaving Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson to duke it out for the primary catcher’s spot. Hank, however, has seized this brief opportunity with both hands in a death grip and sprinted with it. Seriously, each appearance has been better than the last. The pitchers seem to love him. He calls a good game. He catches guys stealing. He caught Juan Pierre stealing. That’s not easy. And he’s hitting and seems a little stronger with each plate appearance. I think it’s time to stop calling the kid the third catcher. I think it’s time to just call the kid the catcher. Let Mathis and Wilson duke it out over who gets to stay up when everyone comes back off the DL…except this is Mike Scioscia’s Angels, so all three may very well wind up staying up. I’m rolling my eyes right now, but it’s with affection.
Other high points? Dan Haren is now 4 and 0. Like Jered Weaver, he didn’t have his best start and now has an E.R.A. over 1 but, also like Weaver, not his best start is still pretty darned good and was good enough for the W. Maicer Izturis had a very hot bat. Mark Trumbo is a beast at the plate and is getting darned good at pulling off a tag out of nowhere at first, which is good because the rain wet ball wasn’t exactly helping with those throws to first. I. Love. Our. Outfield. Have I mentioned that before? Vernon Wells is continuing to gain momentum at the plate and in left field. The bullpen did really well. Jordan Walden almost blew his first save in spectacular fashion but this kid has a closer’s ice water in his veins. He loaded up the bases, then settled down and got the outs he needed without flinching. I wish I could say the same. I flinched, twitched, paced around the room, swore a blue streak and generally was not a pretty sight until he calmed down and got that last out. But as long as he doesn’t make a habit of getting himself into a jam in the first place, it’s nice to know that Walden can get himself out of a jam.
The Angels had a great weekend and Texas got beaten up by the Yankees so now we’re tied for first. Tied. For. First! Yes, it’s April 17th. I realize that standings at this point mean absolutely nothing. First place and a couple of bucks still won’t buy you a grande latte at Starbucks – those suckers cost $3.50. But after every major sports publication picked the Angels to finish in third place, well out of second, being tied for first with the red hot Texas Rangers feels pretty darned sweet right now. *toasts the Angels with a glass of Malbec* Oooookaaaay. I was going to drink that anyway. It went with dinner, gorgeously in fact. But it tastes just that much better after being raised in honor of the Angels.
Starting Monday, the Angels face the aforementioned red hot Texas Rangers. The red hot AL Champion Texas Rangers. I’m a little nervous. I’m a little excited. Well see how it goes. They’re tough. Really tough. But here’s the thing. We beat them a few times last year when the Angels were far, far from their best and the Rangers were still red hot. So…can we beat them? Yes. It sure won’t be easy, but I believe we can. Will we beat them? I sure hope so, but it’s far from a given, and we’re heading into the bottom of our starting rotation, though Ervin Santana has certainly had some success against Texas. You have to play the games to find these things out, fortunately, because I already know where we stand on paper. I don’t think this series is truly make it or break it time for the Angels. Again, its only April. But this series is an important test even so. Go Halos!!
I’ll spare you the unnecessary Dickens parody. Suffice to say this weekend’s games against the Blue Jays were two very different wins for the Angels, one ugly but ultimately effective and the other, as pretty a pitching clinic as one could ask for.
Saturday’s game was quite the weird one. When I spoke longingly of single admission double headers a post or two ago, this is not quite what I had in mind. Matt Palmer had a rough start and wasn’t quite able to complete five innings. This is a shame. I really wanted to see him prove himself. Then we proceeded to work through all seven pitchers in the bullpen with mixed results before Dan Haren – yes, that Dan Haren, from the starting rotation – finished the game and earned the win in the 14th inning. Can I just say, this is why I adore Dan Haren. He’s old school, stepping in to do whatever the team needs when the team needs it. I believe he would still make his start tomorrow if the team let him…and I wish they would. Early pitching woes aside, this game was a great battle of the bats for four innings – we were up, then the Jays and so on. Then the runs dried up and hijinks ensued for the remaining ten innings as bad base running, walked batters, butterfingered position players, outright errors and stranded runners abounded on both sides.
There were good plays too, successful pick offs from Jeff Mathis and Rich Thompson, an out at home plate, etc… But the weird overshadowed the good in my opinion and I do not share the announcers’ enthusiasm for the bullpen’s performance in this game. Yes, they were troopers and prevented runs from scoring for 10 innings, which is no slouch, but they did it with too many walks, too many instances of bases loaded and too many innings that barely ended in disaster. They pulled it off, which is an improvement, but they way they pulled it off makes me question their ability to pull holds and saves off in the future. In the end, the Angels prevailed because of a, shall we say, questionable yet favorable runner’s interference call that prevented the Jays from scoring in the 13th, two timely hits in the 14th and the fact the Peter Bourjos is lightening fast. Bourjos hit a two-out double and Maicer Izturis brought him home with single. But it was Bourjos’ amazing speed, beating out Juan Bautista’s strong, quick throw to the plate by centimeters that really won the game. There is a reason this play was number 9 on MLB’s plays of the week this evening.
Sunday’s game, on the other hand, was fantastic. Jered Weaver pitched a gem of a start, beating his own single game strikeout record of 12 Ks with 15 Ks in seven and 2/3rds innings. He even managed a pickoff at first base, unusual for Weaver whose long limbs and cross body delivery don’t always lend themselves to catching the runner off the bag. It was truly a commanding performance all around and just what the bullpen, completely wiped out from the previous evening’s 14 inning marathon game, needed. Hisanori Takehashi came in to get the crucial last out in the 8th inning and Fernando Rodney, closer by default based on the number of pitches he and the other bullpen pitchers threw yesterday, looked like a closer today: three batters, 12 pitches, three outs and done. I am loathe to trust him again, but must give credit where credit is due. He looked good today. Unlike so many of Weaver’s starts last season, he had run support this game, including a Peter Bourjos two RBI triple in the 4th inning. I actually think that for most batters, this would only have been a double and that Mark Trumbo might have stuck around at third if Bourjos wasn’t on the verge of lapping him, so once again Fleet Pete makes quite the impact.
Any Angels win is a good day in my book, but I really hope to see more like Sunday’s this season than Saturday’s if at all possible. Of course, if winning this season winds up meaning a lot of 14th inning stretches, I’d rather sing extra Take Me Out to the Ballgames than the alternative. Saturday’s abuse of the bullpen (Of? By? Little of column A, little of column B?) has already had a huge impact on the 25-man roster. The Angels optioned Michael Kohn and Kevin Jepson down to the Salt Lake City Bees, activated Scott Downs from the DL and brought youngster Tyler Chatwood up from the Bees. The 22-year old Chatwood, another one of the local prospects the Angels like to recruit, is supposed to get his first major league start against the Indians on Monday in order to give Haren an extra day’s rest. I am interested to see how this turns out. I saw flashes of brilliance in Chatwood during Spring Training but also the need for a lot more work. Of course, this means I will get see Haren, one of my two favorite pitchers, start on Tuesday when Seth and I have tickets to the game again…assuming the Angels can wrap up Monday in a mere nine innings and he doesn’t close again, of course. 😉
Ah, the Angels game today. Losing the third straight game to the Royals 12 – 9 in the 13th inning was…
So…um…yeah…Baby showers anyone? I went to my husband’s cousin’s baby shower today. I absolutely loathe baby showers. Isn’t that funny? I mean, I like kids. I love helping friends and family celebrate good news, but I loathe baby showers…
Right. The game. This is a baseball blog after all, so I probably should talk about the game. I have a fun, bantering relationship with the husband of one of my cousins and, helpful Dodger loving fellow that he is, he left the following questions on my Facebook wall round about inning 11: “Four runs in the last three innings and you’re still going extras? Are the Angels aware they’re playing the Royals? Further, are they aware that these are not the same Royals they’ll call neighbors next year?” Yeah, about that…well see…it was like this…
You know what the problem with baby showers is? It’s the stupid games. If we could just have a normal party, co-ed or still ladies only, without having to diaper a balloon or pluck tiny pins from rice or guess…well, you get the general idea…and I digress. Again.
So, back to the game and the questions on my Facebook. Well, when you start out the game with Scott Kazmir on the mound, he allows five runs in the first one and 2/3s innings, we pull him and then go the bullpen in the 2nd inning. Our bullpen. The Arson squad part duex. In the second inning. You knew the game wasn’t going to be pretty. Oh, and our “closer”? Walking 3 batters and allowing two earned runs in 1/3 of an inning? I’m just…
You know, today’s shower was actually fun! I think this really just proves my basic argument though. The wonderful ladies who planned it dispensed with the silly games…Oh, I’m doing it again aren’t I? That weird tangent thing? Yeah.
It’s not like the game didn’t have it’s high points. The offense was amazing! The Angels hit five homeruns! Five! And Howie Kendrick hit two of them. We hit doubles. We hit triples. Bobby Abreu went five for five. Peter Bourjos went first to home! Have I mentioned before that the kid’s just a little fast? There were a number of truly heroic defensive plays too. Torii’s catch. Maicer’s catch. Jeff Mathis’ tag at the plate. Fleet Pete flying in to bail Vernon Wells out of a jam and keeping two of the runners from scoring, at least.
We scored nine runs for crying out loud! Customarily, when a team scores nine runs, including five homeruns, etc., that team wins…unless our bullpen is involved. So I think you all probably understand why I would rather talk about anything, even that most dreaded of social obligations the baby shower, than about today’s game.
In all seriousness, it’s only four games and the Angels traditionally start out slow. We fans usually spend most of April moaning and groaning about how it’s the end of the world and the Angels usually shape up and then some by May and do well, with occasional bouts of ugly, for the rest of the season. The problem is that last season we didn’t. And, some of the reasons we didn’t are some of the same reasons we just lost three straight to the Royals. I usually don’t call for radical changes in early April but, after last season, spring training and this week, it’s time to call the Scott Kazmir and Fernando Rodney experiments a failure. Bring Matt Palmer back up from the minors and look for a closer. An effective one.