(Cross posted with edits from L.A. Angels Insider. I don’t do a lot of cross posting, but this one fit the bill for both blogs.)
It all started with an absolute dearth of run support — because if what the rest of the Angels’ starting rotation experienced early in the 2012 season was a lack of run support, then clearly we must resort to stronger vocabulary when describing the strange case of Ervin Santana. In his first six starts of 2012, the team scored exactly three runs for Santana and all three of those came during his rocky first start against the Royals. The end result was an 0 and 6 record that belied his steady improvement over that time period which culminated in two quality starts, including the final game of that stretch wherein he struck out 10.
Unfortunately for Santana and our impressions of his season, his quality starts only overlapped with the Angels improving offense for two wins in May before his control slipped again. Then Santana began having entirely different issue with runs, namely with giving them up, frequently in the form of early inning bombs launched solidly into the stands. After a dismal performance in Colorado that can only partially be blamed on the stadium’s notorious altitude, fans had all but forgotten any quality starts.
But just as more and more fans were calling for a change, ‘Hey, that Garrett Richards kid looks pretty good. Once Jered Weaver comes off the DL, couldn’t we…’ Santana threw everyone a curve, pitching a one-hit shutout against the D-Backs that for six and two-thirds glorious innings was perfect in every sense of the word. Okay, so what do you do with a conundrum like that? It’s the strange case of Ervin Santana, indeed.
We all know the Angels’ most likely answer. Sometime this week, perhaps even as I post these thoughts, Jered Weaver will come off of the DL and Garrett Richards will head back to AAA. The Angels typically back the veteran, but in this case I don’t think fans should take issue with the decision. Yes, the four games leading up to Saturday’s gem were ugly, but Saturday didn’t happen in a vacuum. Lost amid the Angels’ April and early May offensive woes were enough strong starts to indicate that Santana’s latest flirtation with control issues, however hot and heavy it may have seemed, is just the same old on again, off again fling he’s had his entire career and not an all encompassing, season long relationship.
Looking at Santana’s record for the last four seasons, he heats up with the weather, giving the Angels strong Julys and Augusts, even during seasons where he’s struggled. I’m not saying that every start is going to be sunshine and rainbows from here on out but, given the near perfection we just witnessed, I think the Angels would be foolish not to at least see what late June and July have in store. If this weekend turns out to be an aberration and Santana’s control reverts to Colorado-like performances, it’s not like they can’t bring Richards (who pitched his own weekend gem) back up again.
Besides, we Angels fans know how our team has a tendency to torture…er…thrill…um, er…thrillingly torture?…us with more excitement in the eighth and ninth innings than is strictly necessary even at the best of times. Smart fans stocked up on plenty of antacid back in March. You know, just in case…
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.
I probably should not let my mood rise and fall based on the results of the latest Angels game. That way lies a certain sort of madness I suppose…or perhaps just strong fanaticism. But darned if I wasn’t more than a little mopey after last weekend’s debacle. And, now that the Angels have won two in a row with strong bats making an appearance, darned if I’m not grinning from ear to ear…of course the fact that we’re leaving for San Diego tomorrow morning to catch the Angels/Padres series might have something to do with my mood as well. But before we embark on what I hope will be a nice long streak of giddy making wins, there is a little unpleasant business this blogger should attend to:
Bye Mickey Hatcher
The Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher Tuesday evening and, I have to admit, I’m pleased. Oh, not for the reasons you might think. This isn’t another ‘Dancing in the streets, Ding Dong the Hatch is Gone’ Angels blog post. I was never particularly in the ‘Fire Hatcher, he’s the bane of our existence’ camp. Look, since 2010 the Angels offense has been dismal to put it kindly and Angels fans readily place the blame on Hatcher. But the thing is, before the 2010 season the Angels offense was pretty darned good for a few years there, at least from a batting average and overall effectiveness standpoint if not from a frightening power standpoint. I vividly remember a few games late in the 2009 season where the entire Angels starting lineup was batting at or over .300. Crazy good! And if we’re going to blame Mickey Hatcher for the bad times, doesn’t it only stand to reason that we credit him for the good times? I mean, it’s not as if either apex of the pendulum was a brief moment in time such that one might characterize it as a fluke.
But, here we are in May 2012 and while the offense had shown brief flashes of teasing hope heading into Tuesday, it still looked like the third season in a row of wildly swinging but otherwise quiet bats. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Angels lack of recent championships occurred simultaneously with the lack of offense. Do I think this is Hatcher’s fault? No. I don’t think he “ruins” swings or there would be no way to explain the seasons before 2010. And ultimately whatever the hitting coach is or is not doing, whatever the team’s strategy and hitting philosophy, the burden is on the players to get in the batter’s box and make contact with the ball.
But I also think it’s clear that Hatcher wasn’t equipped to fix the current situation or we would have seen strong signs of a breakthrough long before now. Over the weekend against the Rangers you could see how much the team has internalized the situation as they started to noticeably despair the moment the Rangers pulled ahead. When a problem gets this convoluted and existing personnel can’t solve it, it’s time to bring in fresh ideas and a new point of view, not because existing staff are to blame for causing the problem or aren’t good at their job under normal circumstances but specifically because they are no longer an effective fit for the job under the current circumstances. On the one hand, I’m sorry to see Hatcher go. He’s a good guy who cares a lot about the team and the team in turn owes him thanks for the good years. But on the other hand I am pleased that Jerry Dipoto recognized the severity of the offense problem and didn’t let the team flounder for another full season without trying something radical. Do I think this solves the Angels problems? I certainly hope so!! But bringing in a fresh point of view is never a guarantee of good results.
Regardless, the Angels offense sure looked good Tuesday and positively exciting on Wednesday to the joy and relief of Halos fans everywhere. Now, a lot of fans are already cheering on new hitting coach Jim Eppard, freshly promoted from AAA Salt Lake City, and congratulating him on our seemingly revitalized bats. But, seriously people, that’s just plain silly. However good Eppard may eventually be for the team, no one walks off the plane and magically turns two plus seasons of weak offense around in less than 24 hours. It could be a sort of placebo effect, relief over someone finally making a radical move to help, just one of those inexplicable things or even some delayed positive result of Hatcher’s influence, though that would be sad considering the situation. Whatever the reason, hitting is contagious and I sincerely hope that Eppard’s fresh presence, methods and point of view are able to help coax this initial hitting outbreak into a full blown virulent offensive epidemic…or, you know, just not stand in the way while it happens of its own accord because, sometimes, that is the most effective thing a leader can do.
Keep it going guys! Interleague is nigh and you know what that traditionally means for the Angels!
Have You See This Centerfielder?
Wednesday was Peter Bourjos bobble head night but somehow I really think that Bourjos would have preferred to be in the lineup than the subject of the evening’s promotional giveaway. I know I would have preferred it. Not to take anything away from Vernon Wells’ two great defensive plays on Monday or his hits this evening, but I would still also really like to see Bourjos and Mike Trout in the same outfield and the same lineup – an outfield with quicker, better defense every time, not just sometimes. And to add insult to injury, not only was Bourjos not in the lineup for the 14th time in the last 18 games, but he was handing out his own bobble heads at the front gate. Oh, I’m sure meeting and shaking hands with Bourjos was a very nice thing for the fans, but really? They had him handing out bobbleheads at the front gate? What’s next? ‘Hey, Petey, while you’re not doing anything would you mind taking over for the bat boy for a few innings?’
Yes, Bourjos started off the season in a hitting slump like, oh gee, I don’t know, most of the rest of the team. But he alone has not been given the chance to work his way through said slump with playing time. Surely they can find better use for a kid who was on the short list for a Gold Glove in his first full season in the majors than occasional pinch running duties. Why wouldn’t we want to make every effort to allow he and Mike Trout to grow together into one dynamite outfield duo? Of course, as I finish this post it looks like he’s in the lineup today – yay! – so maybe this is the sign of better things to come?
Monday Night’s Shutout by the A’s
As you can probably tell from the photos, we were there. It was about as pleasant as you might imagine.
The Good – Hey it was a night at the ballpark and our friend scored her mother’s company seats so we were sitting pretty in the Diamond Club right behind home plate for free. That part wasn’t just good, it was downright giddy making.
The Bad – We were shut out. 5 – 0. By a division rival. I don’t think any more details are really necessary.
Still, there were signs of hope that I think were the logical precursor to the last few nights’ offensive productivity. Namely that the Angels were hitting the ball – right at the A’s for an out in many cases, but there was still some solid contact going on and a few cases of robbery by an excellent play. There was also less wild swinging. Albert Puljos in particular looked more comfortable and, up until the very last at bat where he swung at one so high and one so low that Vladdy would have been saying ‘Really?’, had good discipline and good contact…just at people and robbed in one case. Looking at him Monday I felt we would be seeing more of the old Albert later this week and, indeed, we have. Keep it going! I am rooting for you!!
And here are a few more random game photos just for kicks. No on to the today’s White Sox game, the Padres and, hopefully, a lot more winning! Go Angels!!
So, 2011 is drawing to a close and it is my tradition to take a few moments and write up my top Angels Baseball moments for the 2011 season. It should be noted that, as this blog is now just over a year old, tradition means I am doing it for the second time. Hey, traditions have to start somewhere, right? …But I digress. These are not the Angels only highlights for the season or even necessarily the ones that folks who get paid to analyze this kind of stuff would point out. There are enough articles about that floating around out there already. No, these are the highlights, both Angels and personal, that made my baseball season, in no particular order:
Jered Weaver! Both the season he had – which, were it not for Verlander’s even more amazing season would have easily been a Cy Young season – and the fact that he signed a contract with the Angels through 2016. I loved every minute I spent watching this homegrown dynamo on the mound and look forward to many more in the seasons to come.
Being Wrong. Yes, sometimes being wrong is a great thing and I am thrilled that I was wrong to have worried about Mark Trumbo taking over at first base. My concerns were based on his rookie call-up outings and the issues he had getting into position for plays during Spring Training. But the AL Rookie of the Year runner up worked hard to improve quickly at first and was a bright spot in an offense that was otherwise anything but. None of this guarantees that Trumbo will also be good at third base, but he has more than earned my interest in seeing what he can do in yet another new position.
Ervin Santana’s No Hitter. A former on one season then wild as all get out the next pitcher, Santana showed he has gained considerable consistency following up on his excellent 2010 season with another quality season, and how! The no hitter was merely the most obvious indicator of thischange, but what an indicator it was.
Dan Haren’s 1 hit shutout. And we were there!! Having a full season with Haren on the team would have been a highlight in and of itself, but getting to see this game, live and in person, with a great view of every nasty pitch going over the plate was absolute baseball magic.
Young Angels’ feats. I said it many times throughout the regular season, the Angels rookies and practically rookies made my season. Whether it was watching Peter Bourjos’ dramatic plays in center, Tyler Chatwood’s development on the mound or Mark Trumbo slowly make opposing pitchers start to take notice, the Angels “kids” made the game a lot of fun to watch and gave me significant hope for future seasons.
Personal Game Attendance at an All-Time High! So I tallied it up and we went to 22 games this season, two of which were the Angels/A’s double header. Wow! So. Ummmm…Hon, when you read this, remember how that fact of that being absolutely (Wonderfully!) crazy is tempered by my folks and your boss giving us tickets. 😉 Being at the game so often gave us the chance to catch a lot of season highlights. Bourjos’ first home run of the season. Trumbo’s first big league homerun. A couple of flying Bourjos catches. An I can’t believe he caught that Torii Hunter catch…and that was just during the Haren 1-hit shutout game, no kidding. There was even more than that over the course of the other 21 games. I only hope that tickets are not so expensive this season that we have difficulties getting to the game. I don’t have to go to 22 games (Though I will never turn it down!) but if I don’t get to the ballpark every couple of weeks or so, crankiness is likly to ensue. 🙂
Travelling for Baseball. Seth and I have talked about eventually seeing a game in every Major League stadium for years, but it has also been years since we’ve been able to do any real travelling. This season we finally got started on our plans and while we may have started small we started well, travelling up to the Bay Area to visit with friends and watch games at the Coliseum and AT&T Park. So. Much. Fun! This coming season, the way things look, I think we may only be able to make it down to Petco Park in San Diego, which is local but still progress.
And last but not least…I hesitate to include this winter’s signings only because at the moment Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson have not had the opportunity to take a single swing or deliver a single pitch for the Angels. We suspect they will be strong, difference making additions to the team but while it’s all still just on paper, it’s only highly probable, not actual. But I will add this to my list: last year at this time I was writing about Hot Stove Grief (Hey, this is a serious disorder. Wipe that smirk off your face!) and feeling like the front office was just phoning it in. Today I feel like the front office is really working to put the best team on the field they possibly can and I am hopeful and excited for the season to begin. What a difference a few months make!
First things first – Welcome back from the All Star Break in style Angels!!! Okay, okay. So the Angels’ All Star Break lasted a little longer than that of most other teams…pretty much until Wednesday, round about the 3rd inning actually. But after a crazy comeback win against the Rangers Wednesday and shutting the Rangers out on Thursday, I think I can cut the Angels some slack. After all, who among us hasn’t experienced “vacation lag”? I know I’m experiencing it this week!
So, about that vacation. We wrapped up the Bay Area Baseball Extravaganza with a visit to the beautiful and luxurious AT&T Park on Monday night to take in the Giants vs. Dodgers game. And if I was late enough to the game that I missed first pitch, so were all of these fine folks. Hmmm…I think L.A. has been unjustly maligned on this point 😉 :
Late for the game? How does this happen on vacation? We went for a bike ride late Monday morning on the Marsh Creek trail in Pittsburgh, CA, along marshes and canals off of San Francisco Bay. It was so beautiful and fun that we didn’t hit the car again until 24 miles and a few hours later. So much for catching batting practice, but darned if we didn’t have a blast:
AT&T Park is gorgeous, from the front gates to the seating areas to the view out over the right field all to the tops of ships in McCovey Cove.:
My college friend and his partner, Giants fans, both, accompanied us to the game and clued us in to some of AT&T Park’s finer details. For example, I had no idea that the grates in right field are open to the public walk that runs between the stadium and McCovey Cove. Fans strolling by are invited to stand and watch some of the game free of charge. Very cool:
There is not a bad seat in the house, certainly not our second row seats in the club section just above left field – vacations are for splurges after all! And there are lots of fan friendly touches in the seating sections. Club section ushers politely only allow fans past the doors to their seats in between plays and at bats, so seated fans don’t miss a pitch. In the outfield “bleachers” there are wide, lower concourses in front of the seats, so fans can pass by without blocking anyone’s view.:
If the Coliseum is no frills, AT&T Park is all frills possible. The food is phenomenal and there is quite a diverse selection. And in the club section, there are full bars with actual bartenders! I ordered an Irish coffee to keep the chill away in the later innings, and the bartender wisely never touched the Bailey’s while preparing my drink. Eureka!
Though I was amused to note that for all its frills, AT&T Park is still a mixed use facility. Note that from this vantage, in a different uniform, Cody Ross could be playing goalie:
Being on vacation, I was really out of the loop on trade news. Imagine my surprise, when this friendly face appeared on the Jumbotron in Dodger Blue. Welcome back to sunny Southern California, Juan, and best of luck to you!
When you’re not really cheering for either side, a competitive game is the most fun to watch, and this game was better than the 5 to 0 shutout score would lead one to believe. The Dodgers made a couple of really good plays and had several strong hits, but just couldn’t string any of it together long enough to get on the board. The Giants played very well throughout.:
So with all of this wonderfulness, were there any drawbacks AT&T Park? Just one actually, and it really surprised me. I love Giants fans. I went to the Bay Area to stay with and attend the game with two of them. I have rabid Giants fans in my family. I attended playoff parties with scores of them in Paso Robles and count several in their number as friends but, oh my goodness, when they all get together in one large group at AT&T Park, an awful lot of them choose to be dicks. In the club section for crying out loud! Not in the “we all came to get drunk and obnoxious but can’t name more than a handful of players on the team” section. Now I don’t know where the “we all came to get drunk and obnoxious but can’t name more than a handful of players on the team” section is at AT&T Park, but they must have one. All ballparks have one. We certainly do. 😉
I am not some delicate flower that cannot cope with heckling. Hello, how much time do I spend at the ballpark? Cheering. Heckling. Being passionate for your team. All are very important, traditional parts of the game for home fans and visiting fans alike. But isn’t it supposed to stay in the stands? In my experience at the Big A with rival fans and walking through Dodger Stadium and the Coliseum in Angels gear, the concourse, the bathrooms, the food stands, the ticket lines, etc, are all neutral ground, free from any of the fan on fan heckling that may or may not be going on in the seats.
Not so at AT&T Park. Walking through the concourse on the club level, past the carving station, the full bar and other wonders, Seth turned to me with a huge smile and said, Wow, this makes the club level in Anaheim look pretty plain. And he’s right. I love the Big A, but it is nowhere near this luxurious. A random Giants fan heard us and said loudly, that’s because the Angels suck as his friends all nodded and laughed and it wasn’t friendly laughter. Really? We weren’t even talking to him. “Not when they play the Giants…not in 2002.” Well that wasn’t nearly as funny, apparently, and the group of them quickly dispersed.
Random jerks and an isolated incident, right? Well, not for the Dodgers fans in attendance. I saw three separate instances of lone Dodger fans being heckled, and not in a “we’re friends who came together and are giving each other grief” way either, by small groups of Giants fans while we walked to our seats. I saw more instances later. On the concourse! On the club level!! For all I know, this goes on in reverse at Dodgers stadium, outside of the aforementioned “we all came to get drunk and obnoxious…” section. But the impression I got is that some Giants fans are wearing their new World Series title a lot more gracefully than others.
I’m not saying that the Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown mean kids “We’re number one! We’re number one!” vibe ruined my trip to the ball park. I had an amazing time. What I am saying is that amenities are lovely, frills make any experience that much more special, and given the chance to return to AT&T Park again as a baseball fan with no real ties to either team, as I did on this occasion, I would do so in a heartbeat. But as for attending a game as an out of town fan of the visiting team? I’d take the Coliseum over AT&T Park any day.
Now that was the way to come back from a bad couple of weeks. Nine runs on ten hits to beat the Braves 9 to 0. Ervin Santana pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout and was just plain nasty, striking out seven and walking no one, throwing both his slider and breaking ball for strikes. Not a single Brave made it to second base. It was beautiful.
Our bats were back and the rookies in particular were in fine form. Mark Trumbo had a fantastic game with a couple of stellar plays at first, a three-run homerun and two additional hits, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Alexi Amarista went hitless but continues to impress in the field with several great plays and one leaping catch that did not look possible…until he did it. Hank Conger had a great night behind the plate and Peter Bourjos (okay, technically no longer a rookie, but only just barely) was able to put those quick feet to use yet again in center and on the base paths, with one hit, one hit by pitch and two runs scored.
The veterans were not left out of the fun either. Torii Hunter, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Bobby Abreu all had hits. Torii had a great night in right field and even managed to make fun of his own blunder against the Mariners. He pretended, quite convincingly, to lose the ball in the twilight on a routine pop-up before catching it effortlessly, but not before frightening Santana, Bourjos and Mike Scioscia. Well played Torii! We were cracking up over here.
Oh, and I have decided that Ervin Santana is Hobbes. Outside of the game, he is charming, funny and downright sweet seeming in interviews. The term affable comes to mind. Much like the warm fuzzy side of Calvin’s imaginary companion. On the mound with his game face on, however, Santana’s face settles into an intense predatory smile and, though his eyes are completely hidden in the shadow of his cap, I always expect them to glow from underneath, like Hobbes in pouncing mode with the opposing team’s batters in the role of the unsuspecting Calvin just home from school. I love it!
So, this week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread: grilled turkey and brie sandwiches topped with apples, pickled red onions and baby greens tossed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and accompanied by Rio Seco’s (the baseball winery) MVP reserve, a flavorful Cabernet, Cab Franc and Merlot blend perfectly themed for the evening. It was delicious but, even better, it was a great game! Keep it up gentlemen, this could be the beginning of a wonderful trend!
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I realize that I am in the minority on MLBlogs, but I actually like Interleague play…and not just because the Angels usually rock it. I understand it’s not traditional. I understand that many of the rivalries are manufactured. I understand it can lead to uneven match-ups across a given division, but I don’t care. It’s just plain fun to watch the kind of crazy scenarios we played out as kids – the Angels catching balls against the backdrop of Wrigley’s ivy, the Dodgers dealing with the green monster – come to life.
Part of my attitude may come from the fact that Interleague play developed during the period of my baseball discontent and self-imposed exile from the sport. I didn’t watch it develop like the rest of you. I just checked back into the game in 2004 and *poof* we have Interleague play now. I am enough of a purist that, when I came back to baseball, I hated the new three division league structure, I hated the addition of wild card teams to the playoffs and I hated the whole stupid pitch count thing, but I enjoyed Interleague play. Go figure. Incidentally, I have come to accept three divisions and wild card teams, though it happened slowly and grudgingly, but I still do not like pitch counts and overspecialization among pitchers at all.
In an interview prior to this evening’s game, Dan Haren was asked about Jered Weaver’s stellar, personal single game strikeout record breaking performance on Sunday. He laughed and responded in an affectionate sounding tone that it was getting harder and harder to follow Weaver in the rotation. How do you follow a performance like that? Well, if you’re Dan Haren, you stride out to the mound, throw first pitch breaking ball strikes and other nasty stuff and pitch a one-hit complete game shutout! Boys? This one-upmanship thing? It’s seriously working for me. You can keep that right on up all season. Please!
This evening’s 2 – 0 win over the Indians was, quite simply, one of the best games I have been privileged enough to attend. I am absolutely euphoric as I sit here typing this and, at the beginning of the evening (Hey, I haven’t gone to bed yet, so it’s still the same evening!), I had no reason to believe I would even be in a good mood. I never leave work when I intend to and this evening was no exception. Still, I was making good enough time plop into my seat next to Seth more or less when the teams were delivering their lineup cards…until the freeway came to a dead halt a mere two offramps from my destination around a five car fender bender, roughly 15 minutes before first pitch.
Near the end of the second inning, and in quite a foul mood at this point, I finally set off across the parking lot toward the Big A. Thirty feet from the stadium gate, my ticket flew out of my hand, well out of my reach and looked ready to disappear entirely before I could do anything about it, when a tall gentleman in an Indians jersey reached out with long arms, snagged the runaway ticket and handed it back to me. I could have hugged him. I burst into the biggest grin and literally exclaimed My hero! Thank you!! I finally arrived at my seats, mood much improved but still bummed that I had missed two full innings plus an additional batter. But all it took to bring my mood full circle to excitement was a glimpse of that glorious field and the pitching display going on in front of me…that and the fact that my husband already bought us dinner so I didn’t have to miss another pitch, even though it was easily my turn to do this. What a guy!
Fortunately my comedy of errors getting to the game did not extend to the field. What. A. Game! Dan Haren! Peter Bourjos’ first homerun of the season. Dan Haren! Mark Trumbo’s first major league homerun ever! Oh, and did I mention Dan Haren? 😉 And then, just when it looked like the Indians were going to get a solid extra bases hit with the potential to bust the game wide open, who should come flying from right to center and seemingly straight up the high part of the wall but Spiderman himself, Torii Hunter. No lie, in the middle of one of the best pitching performances I have seen live at the stadium, this was one of the best catches I have ever seen live at the stadium. You will surely see it on the end of the week highlight reels. But even with that play, this was entirely Dan Haren’s show. He never let a runner get to second the entire game. He got the leadoff hitter out in all nine innings. He struck out eight batters. And it looked like he was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes tonight. It was a masterful performance.
The other fun thing about this game was we wound up having some of the best seats possible to appreciate it from. I am kind of a ticket snob, though economics have tempered this tendency considerably, and I had never sat in the upper deck before. But I really wanted to go to this game, I just had a feeling about it, and the tickets that met my strict price limits were in the front row of the lowest part of the upper deck, a section and a half behind third base. I have sat much closer before, but this was one of the clearest views I have ever enjoyed of the ball sailing over home plate…that and I had a great vantage for Torii’s catch and both homeruns. Really, especially considering how it started, I could not have asked for a better evening. We were even surrounded by enthusiastic fans, not as much a given as you might like to think. I cheered and yelled and cheered some more pretty much the entire game. I was happily quite hoarse by the time Haren fielded one last grounder and tossed it to Mark Trumbo at first for the final out…almost looking like he was going to run it over and get the out himself.
I can see myself at work tomorrow with a big giant grin on my face, and that, dear coworkers, is why I sound like Kathleen Turner today. Ha ha, I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way. Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉
Dan Haren, sitting ’em down one by one (Our view was not quite as far away as this photo would lead one to believe):
Look past the big screen with Haren’s post game interview and the note the Halo in it’s happiest natural state, all light up like Christmas: