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 could be my memory playing tricks on me, but the number of extra innings games played out so far this season seems unusually high, considering it’s only April 14th. The Angels alone have already played in three extra innings game and we’re set to play the White Sox this weekend who have already played in five extra innings games. At the moment, the Angels extra innings record (2-1) is better than the White Sox (2-3) but the Angels’ one loss was the only extra innings game where they were the visitors. So what does this mean for the weekend? Will the Angels and White Sox mutual flair for the dramatic cancel one another out so the game lasts a mere nine innings? Or should we Angels and White Sox fans brace ourselves for a couple of 14th innings stretches and beyond? Hmmm, I wonder. Do they do a 21st inning stretch? 😉
Like a lot of Angels fans, I am disappointed that Vernon Wells didn’t come on board and instantly light the scoreboard on fire with the heat of his mighty bat. However, while I certainly didn’t expect him to be at 5 for 49 on April 14th, I wasn’t really counting on the other scenario either. I know that sometimes bats warm up right away and sometimes they take a while. I mean, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, Victor Martinez and Juan Uribe are all hitting at or below the Mendoza line at the moment. At the beginning of any season you can pick a list of similarly big hitting names with temporarily hibernating bats. Does anyone seriously believe these guys will stay batting that far below their career averages for the rest of the season? Didn’t think so. I’m not saying we can all expect Vernon Wells to bat .400 this season or anything like that, but the man’s career average is .278, so assuming anything less than a productive batting average for the season seems equally silly.
Booing him already, as some have done, is outright ridiculous to me. I loved Angles Live Radio Host Terry Smith’s response to a particularly annoying fan on this front. The fan called in berating Wells and how much we’re paying him for a batting average just above .100 and had already written the whole thing off as a failure. Smith sounded weary and annoyed with the caller’s argumentative tone and asked if he honestly thought that Wells’ batting average would not improve this season. The caller said he really didn’t believe Wells would improve his average and Smith responded in a deadpan voice. “Well then, you clearly don’t know very much about the game of baseball. But you got on the air this evening so I guess you should be proud of that.” Well said, Terry Smith, well said.
My thoughts? By all means, be disappointed Angels fans. It’s disappointing. But also cut the guy a little slack. It’s April 14th. Wait and see what he can do in a few more weeks. Oh, and ignore the stupid contract. It will drive you crazy and think about it – yes, it’s a ludicrous contract, but why should we care? Personally, unless I hear that the Angels are unable to spend money they need to spend to keep or obtain new players, that the other players are upset by the contract or Vernon Wells never makes it above the Mendoza line, I really don’t care how much they’re paying him.
I didn’t think I would be saying this when the season started but our starting rotation is a little scary right now. Certainly not Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. They’ve been amazing so far this season and show no signs of stopping. And Ervin Santana has been alternately good and a trooper, battling through a less than stellar start where his speed just wasn’t there to at least keep the Angels in the game for the bullpen and the bats to take over. Hey, some days are like that and there is a lot to be said for not crumbling and continuing to fight your way through it. It’s just that after Santana our rotation gets a little…um…improvisational.
Our number 4 and 5 starters are on the DL – where Kaz can stay indefinitely in my opinion barring miraculous improvement! – so the Angels have been using off days as a phantom start day and hosting a revolving door for the other spot. Tyler Chatwood is supposed to get his second major league start this Saturday but for the next vacant start, who knows? Matt Palmer again maybe? Chatwood showed a lot of the poise under pressure and ability to battle through a bad start that I just praised in Santana on Monday. Now that he’s gotten the obligatory Welcome to the Big Leagues, Kid homerun and an extra one just for good measure out of his system, hopefully Saturday will be more like his later innings and Chatwood will prove a useful replacement.
Regardless, so far the season is going reasonably well and it’s been anything but dull. Occasional anxiety attacks interspersed between periods of contentment and even euphoria seldom are. 😉
The Angels continue to hit in spectacular fashion, both those you would expect and those you would not expect. 39 hits and 31 RBIs in the last three games, even with the loss to Milwaukee? Whooooo hooooo! Granted, batting averages don’t really count for much in Spring Training because the pitching takes so long to get into season shape and the number of minor league pitchers each batter sees. However, the bats seem to be warming up more as the pitching warms up and this I will take as a hopeful sign for the season.
Starting rotation issues, however, are giving me concerns where I did not expect to have any just two weeks ago. Now it sounds like Joel Pineiro will spend a few days on the DL at the beginning for the season. I understand. I want him to pitch strong for as much of the season as he can and back precautionary decisions especially now before the season starts. So much for the 4th rotation spot, for now…though after Scott Kazmir’s last start, who knows?
Which brings us to our 5th starting rotation spot…well…How do you solve a problem like Scott Kazmir? And, yes, that did emerge from my head set to a Rodgers and Hammerstein approved tune. Thanks – or blame, depending on your point of view – to Red State Blue State. I wanted Kaz to regain his old form. I was really pulling for him. There were hopefully signs in several of his Spring Training starts – more control in one game, more strikes thrown in another, more consistency, etc. But it never all came together in one game, which in and of itself already has overtones of 2010. Then, on Thursday against the Brewers, he incurred eight hits and ten runs in five innings pitched. Owwwww-ch. And yet it still sounds like Kaz is our 5th starter. Which leaves us where exactly? Praying for rain every 5th start? That would be one baseball tradition I would prefer not to embrace.
Matt Palmer did pretty well today, pitching to contact with the infield and outfield living up to their capabilities. Hmmm…is he an alternative plan or is he bullpen bound, no ifs, ands or buts? Oh well, I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday after the game, when Mike Scioscia has promised he will announce the starting rotation, the 25 man roster and the opening day starters…because waiting for Wednesday evening would have been too last minute, she says with extreme affection.
In other news, preparing to buy tickets for a few games in Northern California has given me a renewed appreciation for buying Angels tickets down here in Southern California. On Stubhub you pay more than full price for even generic Giants and A’s tickets. Even now before the season has started. It is actually better to go through Ticketmaster for Giants and A’s tickets. The horror!! The Big A is so large and enough of our season ticket holders so unable to attend every game, that I can usually grab tickets at season ticket prices or even cheaper now or the week of the game off Stubhub or Craig’s list. Games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are notable exceptions to this rule. But even so, wow. I had no idea I was so spoiled, but I’ll take it!
Watching Angels spring training games, it would be extremely difficult not to notice the promotions schedule planned for the regular season. There is a large billboard just to the visitor’s side of home plate with a rolling display that prominently advertises the April and May promotions and the broadcast team is doing a great job of hyping all of the others. As with most baseball teams, the Angels promotions are a mixed bag. Some of them are exciting indeed. Others make you wonder what the marketing department was thinking. But some of the bad ones actually fall into a third, so bad they’re actually awesome category – the name-your-favorite-Kurt-Russell-bad-***-B-movie-here or They Live of stadium giveaways, if you will. Allow me to present a few examples:
- We get an Angels post game concert series this season! So far no bands have been named, but there will be four concerts, one each month in June through September. Is this copying the Rays? Yes. Will it be amazing fun anyway? Yes, oh yes.
- Hat nights: the Angels marketing department usually offers a series of great ball caps throughout the season. For the anniversary, a lot of the caps are retro or outright replicas of players’ uniform caps through the years. As long as none of them are the cap from the Disney years, we’re good.
- The Rally Monkey Sock Monkey in July: I like the Rally Monkey concept – a random, spur of the moment whim of the video board operators takes on a life of its own – but I have never felt the need to own one. A Rally Monkey Sock Monkey, however, sounds awfully cute. He could sit on the book shelves in my living room and taunt visiting Dodgers and Red Sox fans. Too bad this one’s just for the kids and I have no prop children to take with me so I can snag one.
So Bad They’re Actually Kind of Awesome Promotions
- The Angels Luchador Mask in May: one the one hand, it’s kind of a WTF idea. On the other hand, it’s an Angels luchador mask. I think this is the giveaway my husband is most excited about. Why do I see his entire sales team sporting these things when the Rangers fan head of Marketing comes for a visit?
- The Angels Ski Beanie in April: okay, so it’s a really silly looking brightly colored knit hat with ear flaps and a pom pom on top. But I think that the marketing department has failed to capitalize on the obvious Firefly tie-in potential with this one. The Outfielder of Canton, anyone? Hey, the Dodgers get their Star Wars night. Fair’s fair.
- The Angels Gnome Bobblehead in August: usually all of the bobbleheads are in the great promotions category (I just didn’t mention them because every team does this now) but this bobblehead is not a player bobblehead, it’s literally a bobblehead of the Angels gnome statue giveaway last season. This would just be bad, but Angels fans turned out in droves to collect those darned gnomes last season and the broadcast team caught gnome fever, keeping one in the booth that would “show up” in odd places throughout the game so the gnome bobblehead gets style points for the humor factor.
What Were They Thinking Promotions
- The Rally Monkey Chia Pet in August: sadly, I may wind up with one of these. This is one of the games we were thinking of attending.
- The Angels Troll Doll in May: fortunately just for children!
- Angels Newsboy Hat: this is the one exception to the Angels hat nights are great rule. Do hipsters even go to baseball games? I know. I know. If they do, it would be in Anaheim or Los Angeles.
It’s baseball. It’s wonderful. I love my Angels. And I would quite happily still go to as many games as possible even if there were no promotions at all. But I think it’s fun to take a look at the promotions and oh and ah or mock where appropriate.
A few notes after the Angels most recent spring training games: This is the first time I’ve seen Scott Downs pitch in Angels red and so far I really like what I see. Eight pitches, three outs. Whooo. Hooo. Mark Trumbo keeps right on hitting and it looks like he’s starting to place himself better for each play at first. Howie Kendrick makes me happy, specifically his increasingly reliable bat! Peter Bourjos makes me happy too, specifically his speed, range and glove in center! And hell-o Tyson Auer. Wow, that kid is fast! It looks like the Angels will not lack for speedy outfield prospects in the years to come.
I’m still on the fence about Scott Kazmir. In his second outing, it took him about three or four batters to warm up, which is customary even when he’s having a good season, but he threw more balls in proportion to the strikes. However, he didn’t get hit nearly as much as he did in his first outing and he settled down such that the last 15 or so of his 35 pitches were fantastic. The Angels lost to the Brewers but Joel Pinero’s three innings were scoreless, continuing his streak. Pinero has not lost a spring training decision in the last 25 appearances.
We beat the White Sox this time out, but it wasn’t easy and it isn’t going to be easy in the regular season. I’m glad to see Jake Peavy seems fully recovered from last season’s injury. I watched the game he was injured during, and it didn’t look like he would be able to make it back this quickly. Former Angels Bench Coach Ron Roenicke looked comfortable as the Brewers Manager. I’m sure he’ll do well and wish him all the best!
At Pilates this evening, I enjoyed a quick chat with a White Sox fan. Last season I introduced her to the cheap ticket wonders of StubHub and gave her information about the Big A so she could see her guys play – she was concerned about our “scary” freeways – and we’ve been friendly ever since. As I was leaving the parking lot, a group of guys in Pirate caps, one of them quite old school, walked by. On the freeway drive home, the usual mixed bag of bumper stickers streamed by as speeds increased in the final fade of rush hour. In and among the honor roll proclamations, fading Obama/Biden stickers and occasionally humorous sayings was an eclectic array of baseball stickers – Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. Nothing new here.
Los Angeles is not like other places. The billboard signage proclaims that this is Dodgertown and that is true to a certain extent. But a sufficient number of Angels fans call Los Angeles County home to warrant equal representation in the team gear sections of our local Targets and Costcos and the same is true in reverse with Dodger fans in neighboring Orange County, home to my Halos of the absurdly lengthy and geographically challenged name. I read as many of your blogs as I can find, and more and more each week as Spring Training brings more sleepy bloggers out of hibernation, so I know that two team towns are nothing special. But Los Angeles is a little more complicated than that.
In and among the Dodgers and Angels gear, you can usually find a fair bit of Yankees and Red Sox items. White Sox caps and shirts are becoming more common as well and, if the number of Cubs fan Chicago transplants I ran into in Orange County last year is any indication, I expect to start seeing the occasional Cubs logo on the sales racks in the next year or so. Native Angelenos like myself are rare, you see. In Los Angeles and, increasingly, Orange County seemingly everybody is from someplace else. And even among the natives, most of us are only native by a generation or two. My grandparents and their families all came out to California during the Dustbowl, which is very common story.
When it comes right down to it, this is one of the things I love most about living here – so many different people bringing pieces of their home to mine and mixing them together in new and different ways. I love that I can go out for authentic soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung (the only location outside of China), hit a jazz club hosting a band from New Orleans and then finish off the evening line dancing at a club opened up by Texas transplants who thought it might be fun and profitable to bring a little bit of home to Los Angeles. Authentic street tacos, a cheesesteak place opened up by a couple of guys who moved out here from Philly, New York style delis, a German deli where more people are speaking German and Polish than English on any given day, Kansas City style BBQ joints, all of these offerings are within easy driving distance of my house, and it’s amazing.
And the sea of different baseball caps? Dodger, Angels, Giants, Red Sox and Pirates at my office’s summer picnic alone. Enough nowadays that, seriously, if I were a kid, I’d give up playing “States” and play “MLB caps” instead. It’s just one more manifestation of what I think of as the real Los Angeles – Dodgertown yes, but kind of Everytown at the same time. I know that Los Angeles is far from the only big city to experience this phenomena, but I wonder if any other city sees their diversity carry over into their baseball cap offerings at non-ESPN type stores? I would definitely be interested in learning if this is so if any of you care to share.
I went to Costco on my lunch break this afternoon and did some of our grocery shopping with this post percolating in my mind. I decided it would be funny to take a picture of the souvenir baseball jersey rack so you could appreciate the wild mix of logos we tend to stock out here but, apparently it’s a little early for baseball still at Costco. However, serendipitously enough, when I walked out to my car this is the picture I was presented with. What are the odds? Well, around here? Fairly good, actually:
This last weekend, my husband and I hosted our annual holiday party after the holidays, a gathering of friends who have too many other obligations to get together during the actual holidays. This is my favorite party we throw every year. Friends fill the house enjoying cocktails and wontons in quantities that can only be described as festive. Why wontons? Long story short, I started making them in addition to other things because I like dim sum. Our guests routinely hoovered them by the handful so years ago we just made wontons the focal point and our own peculiar holiday tradition. We have a “pink elephant” gift exchange where everyone brings a copy of a favorite book for one round and a DVD of a favorite movie for another. So there is lots of raucous fun as everone ohs and ahs over what each person brought and then “steals” the presents from one another. I don’t think we stop laughing the whole night and everyone leaves with a new book to read, a new movie to watch…and often a list of a few new ideas to put on Netflix or add to their reading list.
New among the guests this year? One baseball talk starved Red Sox fan. An old friend of my husband’s whose path we crossed again about a year ago. This is a gentleman who talks a heck of a lot of Red Sox trash and plays Shipping Up to Boston and Tessie on his cell phone “for” me when the Sox are in town. Not that I ever throw it right back in any way or do anything else to warrant such treatment, of course. *smiles sweetly and attempts to look innocent* But oddly enough there was less bravado about him this evening. He wanted to know my opinion about the deals and if I had heard anything new. He wanted to make sure my husband and I would take him to the game again when the Red Sox were in town because he had so much fun last year. This last was not the mocking comment I originally took it for, mostly. Ignoring, for a moment, the egregious stomping my team suffered at the hands of his team once three glorious innings of the Angels on top came crashing to a halt as Dan Haren took a Youk line drive to the pitching elbow (eh, that’s baseball) and turned the mound over to a string of side show acts, I actually had a good time too. I want the Angels to win this year, thank you very much, but yeah, I’ll take him to the game again. It’s fun to have someone else sitting with us who knows his stuff, even if he cheers at all the wrong times for my taste.
And then things got weird. This Angels fan suddenly found herself feeling like she was comforting the Red Sox fan about his team’s Hot Stove activities. But, you guys got Crawford and Gonzalez, I said, I hate to say it but you’re going to put a heck of a team on the field this season.
Meh, I know, he said. But I’m worried about Bon. They’re thinking of trading him you know, or just letting him go to another team next year. If Bon isn’t a Red Sock anymore then, that’s it, I just don’t think I can be a fan anymore… This lead to a retelling of how my friend became a Red Sox fan as an adult and of his first game, seen from the Fox Sports box at Fenway no less, and a squeaker of a Jonathan Papelbon save…followed by a lot more whining (because, seriously, if your team has had the offseason the Rod Sox have had, it’s whining) and downright wistful hope that all of this was part of some greater ploy to keep Papelbon’s demands reasonable so the Sox can resign him in 2012 as a free agent.
And then the realization hit me. Oh my God! The anger. The threats. The rationalization. All in one thought pattern no less. Could it actually be? And there you have it ladies and gentlemen, proof that the scourge of Hot Stove Grief can strike anyone, even that most unlikely of candidates, a Red Sox fan in the middle of 2010-2011 offseason!
In Angels news, the team signed Alberto Callaspo to a one year contract, avoiding arbitration. So that’s one 2011 arbitration situation nicely side-stepped and seven more to contend with before the season starts. Yikes! If we don’t have Adrian Beltre or another star at third base in our future, then I am happy with this decision. Callaspo plays a good third base, not a Gold Glove third base by any means, but he does get the job done. And Callaspo’s bat, streaky but respectable over the course of the season, was not the reason the Angels third base position produced a dismal .223 batting average last year. He and Aybar just need to get over their occasional bouts of detrimental oneupsmanship (as opposed to the good kind they also exhibit which spurs both to work harder) and call the GD ball for crying out loud!