Wednesday evening, as Mark Trumbo’s broken bat fly ball arced into the glove of Yankee left fielder Dewayne Wise for the game’s final out, I experienced a brief flush of disappointment. But a rush of pride followed so quickly on disappointment’s heels and so powerfully, that I stood up in my living and gave the Angels a standing ovation of one. No, this is not my usual reaction to an Angels loss, far from it. But after that streak? A thrillingly fun eight game winning streak that was revitalizing to players and fans alike? I could do no less.
When I’ve worried and complained about the Angels this season, it’s primarily been about the team’s lack of fight – their missing swagger and the propensity of all too many players to seem as though they had given up the minute the Angels fell behind. Well, 8 wins and 40 runs on 75 hits with plenty of successful comeback moments later and that sense of defeat is gone. Everyone is fighting hard to win and the team has well deserved swagger to spare. In short, these are the Angels we have been waiting for all season. Judging from the grins and playful, loose expressions on the field, these are the Angels the players have been trying to be all season too. Now if that doesn’t deserve a standing O, then I don’t know what does.
So now the streak has come to end, as all great streaks eventually must, and I am still filled with a sense of possibility for this team. I mean, seriously – from last place to second place while cutting a significant swath through the number of games by which we trail Texas all with one streak? If the Angels keep playing like this, anything is possible, though I would still advocate a play for and enjoy each game as it comes philosophy. Hey, ‘we gotta play it one game at a time’ is cliché for a reason. 😉
After the Angels last series against Texas, I wrote “Look, it’s baseball. Shit happens. Aces have bad starts. Good hitters slump. Position players who usually play great D occasionally throw away the ball or flub a catch. What makes a team great is not its ability to prevent these things from happening – you can keep them to a minimum for sure, but over the course of 162 games, they’re going to happen – but how the team reacts and deals with them when they do happen.” And I still absolutely believe this to be true. But while the conclusion I drew a few weeks ago was one of disappointment and questions, today I can’t help but smile and feel that the Angels are meeting this criteria.
In the month of May we lost Jered Weaver, Chris Iannetta, LaTroy Hawkins, Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans to the DL and Torii Hunter to family issues back home (which is having your priorities straight in my book). Losing your ace, your primary catcher, one of your more reliable bullpen arms and the majority of the outfield would have been enough reason for any team to crumple. Instead, these Angels rose to the occasion, bringing us to our feet like we’ve been dying to do all season. How the team continues to play with these missing teammates is going to be another test. The starting rotation in particular has some big shoes to fill with Weaver on the DL – literally as well as figuratively, he is 6’ 7”. 😉 But unlike I might have felt in early April, I feel strongly that these guys are up to the challenge. And, honestly, the way the team handled the loss on Wednesday spoke volumes more to me even than the way they handled their wins through the streak.
Ervin Santana started out shaky and then went from shaky to downright bad in the 3rd, giving up 5 runs. Again, bad starts happen even to great pitchers. It’s all in how the team responds, and this team responded by fighting their heart out. Some clutch hits here, a Trumbomb there, a couple of heads up defensive plays over there and suddenly the Angels have tied it up, are very much back in the game and Santana has sufficiently remastered his control to give the team 1-2-3 innings in the 4th and the 5th before retiring. Yes, we wound up losing that one, but when a team shows that much fight and spirit to the end in a near win, there are going to be a lot more actual wins in their future.
And now we find ourselves face to face with Texas for another series, this time at the Big A. I don’t know about you, but I am so excited I’m having a hard time working today – but I’m pushing to get stuff done anyway. I have tickets for Saturday’s game and am likely to cave on my self-imposed one game per home stand rule and nab tickets for Sunday’s game as well given even the slightest push. This series is not do or die yet, but the Angels certainly have an opportunity to make a statement here. I have no idea what the outcome will be but, as long as these Angels are the team that takes the field, we are all truly looking forward to three great games!
Focus. It’s essential, both for winning the game at hand and for reaching the post season. Completely out of sorts after the last three games, on Tuesday morning I was going to argue that Angels had hopelessly lost all focus.
Fortunately, I’m a moody writer in the reverse of tradition – I hate writing when I’m in a bad mood – so I had Tuesday’s gem to remind me that the prognosis is far from hopeless before I posted. The Angels have lost focus, it’s true, and for several seasons now if we’re being honest. But, they are working to regain their focus and we saw some of the fruits of that effort last night. Still, I think that Mike Scioscia’s comments after Monday’s game are correct. When you get mired in problems this deep, you aren’t going to fix them overnight. And, while my out of focus image is a pun-ny visual I also think it’s an apt analogy. As you focus the lens on a camera, your view bounces from terrible, to good, to blurry again, and back through good directly to bad a few more times until finally it’s just right.
The Angels aren’t fully focused yet and, while I hope Tuesday was the beginning of a fun winning streak, especially with Weaver on the mound today, I also imagine we’re in for a few more shifts through frustrating play before they do achieve complete focus. Batting averages are going up, or starting to go up again as the case may be. The bullpen’s been looking downright good lately. Situational hitting…is still a work in progress. Even when we win, LOBster is still far too much in season for anyone’s tastes. But the team’s overall record is improving – three steps forward, two steps back but, still, improvement. Much like focusing the camera, some of the interim results may give you a headache watching them, but ultimately we seem to be headed in a better direction.
And, once the Angels have finished focusing, what will the picture look like for late September? I know what we all want it to be but, honestly, I don’t think you can ever have more than a hopeful idea until you actually get there even in seasons where the team is doing well. Besides, I think focusing so hard on the end of the season before it even really began is the underlying reason the Angels got so very out of focus to begin with. Focus on the end of May first and then worry about June and so on. Although the end of the season is no longer as far away as any of us would like, it still really is a long way off yet.
The Hopefully Annual Baseball Extravaganza San Diego Edition: Part 2
After Sunday’s all too costly game – wishing both Vernon Wells and Ryan Langerhans full and speedy recoveries! – I didn’t have the heart to post about the end of our San Diego trip. But a one hit shutout does a lot to improve one’s outlook on things and scanning through my photos I was reminded of all of the positive things we fans can focus on right now while the team is getting it together. Hey, last season I was the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels Baseball, best get back to it, right?
1) Starting Pitching, of course. So there have been a few issues getting started, but ultimately the staff is strong top to bottom as they reminded us this week – Weaver more than bounced back from Texas on Friday. Haren looked much healthier and definitely pitched to win, as did Santana and Williams. (And can you believe we have a guy this good as our 5th starter? The more I watch his calm presence on the mound, the more I adore him). And then there was C.J. last night. ‘Nuff said. If the rest of the team is willing, clearly our starters can get us there.
2) The kids. I simply can’t say enough good things about what Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout bring to this team – and Trout especially was on fire at the plate throughout this series. While I absolutely did not want it to come about because of injuries, especially injuries like these, I am eager to see if, with playing time, Peter Bourjos can bounce back to last season’s batting average. If he can, having the combined dynamic speed and talent of Trout and Bourjos in the outfield and terrorizing the base paths is certainly cause for celebration, no Pollyannas required.
3) Kudos to the Bullpen. They’ve been looking pretty darned good lately, no? I think the shifts and changes have ultimately been good for the team. I’m thrilled with the addition of Ernesto Frieri to the pen. To a man, the relievers appear to be making whatever adjustments and corrections they can to help keep us in the game and the improvement has not gone unnoticed.
As for the game itself, it was a tough loss, but largely because leading up to that point the game was so good – a two run tie until the bottom of the 7th and the Angels fought hard to get on top again. There were frustrating wasted opportunities at the plate – though certainly not from Eric Aybar! What a game he had! But defensively the team was amazing and that catch of Trout’s to keep us in the game? Wow! I just wish it had ended differently.
And, a few more words about Petco itself – our seats were in the club section right behind home plate with a fantastic view of one gorgeous ballpark. A lot of the photos I’ve included in this post are warm up photos and that is largely because at Petco Park all of BP and the warm up sessions are easily viewable from the concourses at all levels and, for the most part, fans are allowed easy field section access until the end of batting practice, something that is only possible with the more open designs of the newer stadiums. I am absolutely against all of this moving to L.A. talk, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a few modernizing upgrades to the Big A in Anaheim.
Something else I would like to point out is that I love the Padre’s sense of community. It was heartwarming to enjoy National Anthems played by a local school band on Friday and to have a local military color guard on Saturday.
Suffice to say it was a great a trip and I will jump at any chance I get to catch a game at Petco Park again.