There’s a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is merely the absence of success. Any fool can achieve failure. But a fiasco, a fiasco is a disaster of epic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to other’s to make other people feel more alive because it didn’t happen to them. ~ Drew Baylor, from Elizabethtown
Oh my goodness, we’ve got ourselves a natural disaster. ~ Crash Davis, from Bull Durham
I’m sure that at this point you think I must have chosen these quotes to illustrate the Angels 2013 season. I mean, let us review the facts, shall we? Angels blog. Angels fan blogger. It’s July and the Angels are still 3 games under .500. And, that in and of itself, is sadly a vast improvement in the midst of a season that can be classified at best as disappointing. How could I have chosen these quotes for any purpose other than to represent the Angels 2013 season?
Well, not so fast actually. When I originally started writing this post, in the middle of the Angels eventual sweep by the Pittsburg Pirates…okay. Yes. That was more than a week ago. What can I say? Writer’s block, she is quite the stone plated B and being absolutely livid with one’s team doesn’t do a whole lot to alleviate the situation…that, and, when you only seem to be capable of eking out a few sentences at any given time, the writing you need to do for work comes first. Those are the rules. But I digress…
When I originally started writing this post, in the middle of the Angels eventual sweep by the Pittsburg Pirates, I picked those quotes out specifically because they’re the sort of quotes I imagined everyone else would apply to the Angels, but I disagreed…sarcastically, naturally. Because, yes, being 33 and 42 on June 22nd was horrendous. But, seriously? Fiasco? Natural Disaster? No. Anyone actually watching the Angels play could tell you that these terms sounded far too interesting and entertaining, even within their negative context, to describe the lackadaisical, half-hearted, completely lacking any fight whatsoever, Angels play interspersed with all too few splashes of brilliance we fans were suffering through.
Well, happily many things have changed since then. I stand by my assessment that those quotes don’t really apply to the 2013 Angels…and now with 85% less sarcasm! The Angels won a few more, lost a few less and then went streaking for seven games and counting! Yes, the team still has its problems – not the least of which is the fact that they’re still under .500. No, this streak is no guarantee about the direction the team will take for the rest of the season. And, no I am certainly not leaving my calendar free for the entire month of October in anticipation or anything…well…er…at least not to any greater degree than usual. Hey, fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly. And Angels blogging baseball geeks gotta watch as much of the playoffs as they can. 😉
But, here’s the thing. I really don’t care about any of that at the moment. Watching the Angels play right now is fun. Big offensive innings are fun. Sweeping teams instead of getting swept is a blast. Brilliant plays in the field like the one Mark Trumbo initiated yesterday make me stand up in the middle of my living room and cheer, giddy little kid happy. And watching the team win while playing actual, honest to goodness Angels baseball? Well that’s a veritable barrel of rally monkeys, that is. No, this isn’t the season any of us wanted. And I’m still not ready to apologize for my words in my last post – though I’m waiting guys; make me eat crow and I’ll be a happy woman. But at the moment this is at least an Angels season I want to watch and, for a while there, that’s something I didn’t think I was going to get to say. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes just getting to see a lit halo for several nights in row is what you need.
Insanity and baseball fans, two concepts that have nothing at all to do with one another…or do they? Remember, “fan” does come from the term fanatic and fanatic comes from the Latin fanaticus, which means a sort of mad, overzealous enthusiasm pertaining to a temple or other sacred place, temple being fanum in Latin. And you know what? I can still see it. Granted, I am more used to hearing ballparks described as America’s cathedrals, but I think temples is an equally apt description. It is, however, a bit cumbersome for a modern definition. The literal definition of lunatic is someone who becomes crazed by and howls at the moon. I tend to think of a fanatic as one who howls at the television set.
My point is simply this. We baseball fans may be mild mannered, well adjusted people in every other aspect of our lives (or we may not), but when it comes to the team we love, we’re all just a little bit cracked…okay, more than a little bit. Check my logic here…
Moving briefly back to the television set, how would describe your relationship with your TV when your team is playing. Personally, I would characterize mine as loud…and so, no doubt, would my neighbors. Now, do you think this whole yelling at inanimate objects thing is rational behavior? Oh, but of course we aren’t really yelling at the inanimate television set itself, now are we? That’s right, we’re yelling at the tiny images of baseball players on the screen…tiny images of baseball players who can’t hear us…because they’re just images, not actual people. You’re right. That does sound so much more rational. 😉
What about believing in the magical power of random objects to affect to affect the outcome of events? Generally, I think most of us would agree this is not a rational thought. When it comes to baseball however, we have lucky shirts, lucky socks, rally caps, the list goes on. And even though on some level we understand that these objects have nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of the game, who among us hasn’t left the stadium after a painful loss thinking, amidst all of our ‘players/managers/umpires coulda, shoulda, woulda thoughts,’ something along the lines of ‘Next time I’m wearing my lucky hat’ or ‘I knew I shouldn’t have worn this jacket. It’s blue.’?
And do I even need to bring up the rituals? Yeah, why not. We baseball fans often have “lucky” rituals that rival even those held dear by some of the players. Watching the game from a particular bar, or a special seat at the stadium. Partaking in a specific meal or eating only at specific times during the game. I’ve heard it all and I’m sure we all have stories we could share. Myself, I have a special love for punk music that’s heavy on the bagpipes with a dash of fiddle and I’ve been enjoying it immensely today…because this is the first time I’ve listened to it in weeks. See, from about a week before the Angels start playing the Red Sox until they finish playing them for the year, I cannot bring myself to listen to the Dropkick Murphys or anything that sounds even remotely like them. When someone who wouldn’t understand, read a non-baseball fan, asks, I say it’s because it feels disloyal to listen to such Red Sox loving and beloved band. However, the honest answer is that it would feel like I was thumbing my nose at the baseball gods which, much like spitting into the wind and tugging on Superman’s cape is one of those things you just don’t do. Now, when I’m being rational, I know that my musical taste has no impact whatsoever on unrelated events, but once we start talking about baseball… Oh, and yes, of course the baseball gods exist and are a completely rational concept. Why do you ask? 😉
Oh, and there are plenty of other ways in which baseball fans are not, strictly speaking, sane in their love of team. In fact, I’m sure you’ve thought of a few yourself while reading this. So I’m going to leave it that, point proven, mischief managed…except for one more thing:
So, my Angels. Yes, they’re 8.5 games out of first. Yes, even after sweeping the Red Sox for the season series – and oh how sweet that was! – they’re 4 games out of Wild Card contention. Yes, it’s the last day of August and the Angels only have 30 games left to play in the regular season. And, no, I have not given up on the Angels making the post season at all. Is that more than a little irrational bordering on crazy? Perhaps. But, hello? Baseball fan! Did you not just read my post? Crazy and irrational is at the very core of our being.
So apparently the Angels were much more in focus than I thought, and halleluiah for that! Sometimes it’s okay to be wrong, other times it’s downright awesome. Hot pitching. Clutch bats. An already improving bullpen that jumped to pretty darned good with two lights out closer options. Homeruns – yes, and from that guy too! I think it’s safe to say that the Machine is coming back online nicely – see, patience is a virtue. I hate that injuries occurred prompting its creation, but I do love the way our outfield-of-the-future-come-a-little-early is looking. And, hello? Come from behind wins? Don’t look now but I think the Angels are back.
Okay, there’s still some tinkering that needs to happen. A few or, you know, a lot less guys left on base would be nice. And there is the little matter of Texas and their smaller – dare I say slowly shrinking? – but still substantial lead. But things are coming along nicely. And, go figure, take six out of seven against your division rivals including a 4-game sweep of the Mariners, jumping from last place to second, and suddenly optimism returns to the season outlook. I’m really looking forward to this week’s home stand and can’t wait to see the outcome if we meet Texas with this swagger instead of the nervous gaffs of a few weeks ago.
Thoughts on Kendrys Morales
Since the season began, Kendrys Morales has had his good days at the plate and his bad days. A few days ago, reporters and fans alike were concerned with the number of his recent 0-fers and today he is a hero after hitting 3 for 4 with a homerun and 2 RBIs. As for me? I’m just grateful he’s able to play again and am unsurprised and calm about the inconsistency. I know that being a DH is not as strenuous as being a position player, but think of what he’s asking of his ankle after, in essence, two seasons of immobility punctuated by rehab activities. I expect him to hit because he is a natural hitter. But I also expect him to have tired and sore days in addition to the usual small expected slumps an uninjured hitter will go through in a given season.
However, I think that Kendrys is another player with whom a little patience from the fans will eventually be rewarded. I think that based on what we’ve seen so far, he will contribute this season, even if his contributions come in waves. But in the meantime he’s building up strength, getting his swing back and getting into his old groove so that next season we stand a good chance of having the old Kendrys back 100% of the time – at least in the DH role ‘cause it’s not like we’ll need a new first baseman. And I for one think this possibility is worth putting up with more bad days this season than one might expect from your typical hitter – especially if the good days look like Sunday!
On a Personal Note…
Of course, as luck would have it, I was away this weekend so we only grabbed bits of the killer games on MLB.com Gameday and Twitter. Yeah, yeah, I know. The first step is admitting that you have a problem. Don’t worry, we have never sacrificed quality vacation time to stay indoors for the game and we never will. Witness, we spent Sunday hiking around the various trails in Yosemite Valley, not trying to catch the Angels day game. (Check out my Twitter page for a few photos if you are interested.) But, especially in the evenings, if we don’t have any other plans, what could be more relaxing and vacationy than kicking back with the game or seeking out a local’s haunt to watch it at? Besides, this was primarily a working vacation anyway, helping empty out the storage unit and move all of my husband’s family’s stuff back into the rebuilt cabin in Yosemite. We went from having the cabin totaled by a falling tree and the resulting snow melt/water damage/mold created by the hole in the roof a little over two years ago, to this last summer:
And, finally just in time for summer 2012, this:
…and I am looking forward to many fun trips back up here to come!
So, Kristen. How was the ballgame?
Oh, it was nice. Fun. You know. They threw the ball, caught the ball and hit the ball. Couple of good plays. Just another Halo victory, as the announcers say. Oh…yeah…there was one other thing…
OMG!!! OMG!!! Jered Weaver threw a no hitter!!! And it was one of the most amazing things I have seen in my entire life. He was so on, he made it look effortless. I am still bouncing with excitement as I type this hours later and might quite possibly still be cheering were it not for the fact that I am hoarse from all of the cheering I did at the game – my neighbors are grateful and they don’t even know it, he he. Congratulations, Jered! This was beyond well deserved!!!
So, yeah. That was the first no hitter I’ve ever seen in person, a thought I heard echoed by many, most of whom are older than I and have therefore seen a great deal more live baseball, as the jubilant crowd lingered, mingled and eventually meandered their way out. It was just so magical that I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave. I know I had to pry myself away from the rails. So, now I am going to try to string together a few coherent thoughts about the game and the Angels beyond just exclaiming Wow!! over and over again, but I can’t make any promises on that front. As I said before, I’m pretty giddy.
So, as you may have heard a place or two…or ten…thousand, the Angels had a rough April. Enough pieces were there for a winning team, but those pieces just weren’t working together or at the same time. The team desperately needed not just a spark, but several sparks in rapid succession, sufficient to get a fire a going. So, starting Friday, the team makes several needed changes. Spark. Last night Jerome Williams pitched a gem, a complete game, three-hit shutout. Spark! And the offense started to pick up – Hello Torii ‘Homerun’ Hunter and Howie ‘one double shy of the cycle’ Kendrick! Spark!!
Then Jered Weaver takes the mound and flat out deals – 9 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 9 strikeouts and 1 walk. He threw 77 of his 121 pitches for strikes. Spark! Spark!! Spark!!!
And to top it all off, finally gifted with a lineup that simultaneously contained all of the teams’ best hitters, the Angels offense just went to town. Nine runs on 15 hits?! Baseballs were flying over the wall, zinging into the outfield, sneaking through the infield. It was a sight to behold. Spark! SPARK! Whooooosh. Conflagration? I hope so. We’ll find out this series when we face the Blue Jays.
Yes, we could look at sweeping the Twins as just the Angels beating up on a team that had an even worse April than we did. The Angels just did what they were supposed to do, big deal – except that in this case it is. The Angels did what they were supposed to do, which means that all of those sparks are starting to catch fire. Hip hip and ten thousand huzzahs. Keep it going boys and soon everyone’s going to catch on fire. So, Dan Haren. Weaver one upped Williams. You’re a competitive fellow. How about it? Care to try for the one up like you did last season? It could be fun!
So back to this whole no hitter thing. Being there was almost indescribable, but I’ll try. The crowd was sparse. Way too sparse for my tastes. Blame the aforementioned April woes combined with a weeknight game on a night that really looked like the morning’s rain might resume at any moment despite what the weather reports said. But by the fifth inning this small crowd was so excited, so invested in every pitch, that the feeling was absolutely electric and it filled the stadium.
Everyone knew what was going on. Ball players like to say they never look at the scoreboard but the fans make no such pretenses. And we all kept looking at each other, giving thumbs up and high fives. Bouncing up and down. Cheering. Pumping our fists and banging on the empty seats. All jumping out of our skins to shout out loud that which tradition forbids us from so much as whispering before the outcome of the final pitch…well, except for these two obnoxious ladies who from the 6th inning on would not shut up with the “Catch it Torii, catch it. Don’t spoil the no hitter!” “Way to go Pete, you saved the no hitter!” and so on. Look, I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t believe that saying no hitter during a no hitter, unless of course the person you’re saying it to is the pitcher in question, will have any impact on the game. But there are some traditions you just don’t break, and this is one of them. For the most part, they were simply ignored. And after that final out, the crowd went nuts chanting “Weaver, Weaver!” and jumping up and down.
And can I just say how heartwarming it was to see our hometown hero who made it clear in no uncertain terms last season that he loves this team as much as we do, accomplish so much at home in front of friends and family! Watching him exchange emotional hugs with his parents and then sweep his new bride – who has a great name, by the way, even though she spells it funny 😉 – up into an embrace before the press conferences began? This was a slice of what baseball used to be.
* * * * *
And the absolute icing on the evening’s seriously delectable cake was our seats. Some season ticket holder with a very exclusive location just couldn’t make the game this evening – bet they’re kicking themselves now, don’t you? – and put their tickets up for sale online. I really will never be able to thank them enough because not only were Seth and I there for this amazing game, we watched it from the front row of the Knothole Club, the Club level restaurant in right field just to the “It’s outta here!” side of the foul pole. The view? The service? The food? Amazing! This game made its own ballpark experience. We would have enjoyed ourselves in even the cheapest of cheap seats. But having the rare opportunity to enjoy such luxurious surroundings and a perfectly unobstructed view of the magic on the mound made it even better.
Sweeping the Mariners in a four game series was a most fitting way for the Angels to head into the All Star Break. After all, it was series win over the Mariners at the beginning of the epic Four Corners Road Trip that helped June’s struggling Angels turn it around and embark on a 19 and 6 streak. During the Angels reign of terror through the National League and back again, bats were discovered, starting pitchers delivered gems, bullpen pitchers delivered holds and saves a plenty and a talented nineteen-year old number one prospect made his Angels debut. I attended Saturday’s nine to three victory and hd a blast watching our guys do their thing and the kid fitting right in…you know, with all of the other Angels kids.
Yes, with Peter Bourjos’ unfortunate hamstring strain late in Thursday’s game, Trout-mas came early to Anaheim this year. No, Mike Trout did not knock two grandslam homeruns in his first game or singlehandedly field every single ball that made it to the grass as the increasingly outrageous hype surrounding this talented young man might have lead one to believe. But what he did do was get a hit and an RBI in his second game in the show. Show off his speed on the base paths and in the outfield. He did display a rookie’s hesitancy on several plays, which is to be expected, but more than made up for it with one highlight reel, game saving catch and several other catches of varying difficulty and generally charm the heck out of Angels fans everywhere with the joy he takes in the game and his pleasure at just being called up.
So what is my assessment of the lad? I am really pleased. I think he’s extremely talented and a stellar future corner outfielder. Corner outfielder? What’s that you say? Yep. You read that right. Trout can fly and dive and catch but no more so than our current future Gold Glove centerfielder (if not this season then soon) Peter Bourjos. And Bourjos has a strong, sure arm while Trout…well he doesn’t have Johnny Damon’s arm or anything, but baring some serious improvement, it isn’t strong enough for centerfield. Still, the thought of an outfield in 2012 or 2013 with Bourjos in center and Trout in left gives me goosebumps thinking of all the extra base hits they will rob. And although he didn’t really get piece of one this series, Trout has more of an extra base hits bat than Bourjos so they will complement one another nicely in that regard as well…as they blaze around the basepaths forcing errors left and right. To wax Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom-ish for a moment: My God, it will be beautiful!
But for this season, once Bourjos is back in shape, I like our existing outfield with players who have already ironed out their communications issues and work as a unit. I also think Trout’s bat is going to take the same amount of time to warm up as our other rookies’ did, and would rather the team deal with that at the beginning of next season rather than the middle of this one…and hopefully for Trout, the vets won’t make him walk up to Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA next time. Too funny!
But back to Saturday’s game. Now that’s a homerun swing! I lucked out and happened to snap the photo right as Torii hit his first of what would be two homeruns for the evening.
Michael Pineda was every bit as formidable as his reputation states. He sat down six Angels in a row to complete the first two innings.
And I think that might have been the story of the game, were it not for our secret weapon: Rookies who had faced Pineda in the minor leagues just last season! Mark Trumbo said hey, I know how to hit this guy and got the Angels off to a nice start in the 3rd with a single. He would also homer in the 8th.
Hank Conger also knew Pineda and stood his ground against Pineda unafraid and worked the count into a walk. Then Mike Trout got his first base hit, a sacrifice he beat out with his speed, and his first RBI and Trumbo scored.
…Setting the stage for Torii’s first homerun of the evening.
Joel Pineiro pitched a pretty good game. He had a strong start and overcame a shaky 5th inning to deliver seven innings with seven strike outs and only one walk…he did allow ten hits, but the infield and outfield had his back. The Angels took off scoring runs again in the bottom of the 5th and the tide never came close to turning again.
Here are a few other snapshots from the game. Erick Aybar tries to sell an attempted pick off of Greg Halman to the umpire. Don’t worry, the ump didn’t blow this one. Chalk it up to Erick’s poor acting chops…or, you know, the ball sitting there on the grass two feet behind him.
Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo chat in the dugout during an Angels at bat. Bourjos is still day to day but it sounds like he should be well enough to play after the All Star Break.
Batting coach Chris Chamblis, Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan and Jack Cust chat in the dugout. “Coach, if I see fireworks come out of the rockpile one more time…”
Former Angel Adam Kennedy steps up to the plate. This was a good photo of Hank Conger maneuvering behind the plate.
Trumbo decides to make the play himself. Yoooou’re out!
The Angels bullpen heads for the clubhouse after the game. Hmmm…looks like it was Jordan Walden’s turn for the Cookie Monster backpack.
And now? Well, it’s good to be busy at work and headed up to the Bay Area because otherwise I’d be awfully mopey for baseball this week. I love seeing the right players named to the All Star Teams because it is an honor and it tickles them, but I seldom get really pumped for the All Star Game itself.
The Angels swept the Nationals and, oh yeah, we went to a baseball game on Monday! Work has been plentiful, all consuming, fun and, occasionally, FUn this week – I came home from Monday’s game and moved a project along until 2am, that kind of fun. Between that and the games I suddenly looked up, it’s Thursday already and I haven’t posted my photos. Oh well…
Our seats for Monday night’s game were just to the foul side of the foul pole down the first base line, in the second row. Prime visitor’s section this. And, indeed, we set in front of and behind two families of Nationals fans vacationing in Los Angeles and next to a Phillies fan and his young daughters who were here on one of the middle stops of a larger baseball tour vacation. They had just come from Seattle and were headed out to Arizona then Texas. So jealous! When everyone has the right attitude, visiting fans can be a kick to enjoy the game with and all parties involved in this particular case were really nice and a lot of fun to chat/snark with.
Bobby Abreu leads off of second. Being on the field level, these seats were excellent for catching glimpses of personality on the field, some of which I got on camera. As you can see, Bobby is a talker on the base paths, especially at second base. He always wears a huge smile and gestures broadly with his hands so it is unclear for the most part if he’s goofing around, talking trash, just shooting the breeze or what. Probably a little of columns A, B and C. What little I catch of it on TV is pretty darned funny…and of course he has 13 stolen bases (not bad for one of the few ballplayers left who are older than me :)) so perhaps this is all part of his strategy. Get ‘em laughing, then break for third?
Vernon Wells at bat. These seats were not, however, the best for views or photos of the plate. The first base umpire is always in the way. That’s okay. Ssometimes I enjoy having a closer vantage of the outfield and plays at second. Wells is continuing to heat up in June. He hit a single this at bat, which eventually lead to a run and then went four for five on Tuesday with a crucial two-run homerun. And Angels fans are starting to respond. Both developments are very welcome indeed.
Catcher Bobby Wilson and Pitching Coach Mike Butcher meet with Ervin Santana on the mound. Santana got off to an uneven start, giving up homeruns in the 2nd and 4th, but settled into a good rhythm after that. He lasted eight innings and on the Angels, starters don’t pitch in the 9th inning unless they’re pitching a shutout or something equally spectacular, so that’s pretty darned good.
Just a random shot of the Angels bullpens. The bullpens at the Big A are terraced, which is a little unusual. The Angels bullpen on the lowest “step” in the front. And if you look at the photo you can see the Nationals in the visitor’s bullpen one step up and behind the home bullpen. Starting another “step” above the visitor’s bullpen you have the Left Field Pavilion seats. In this bullpen shot you can see Angels relievers Michael Kohn (standing up), Fernando Rodney, Hisanori Takashi’s translator, Hisanori Takashi and Jordan Walden kneeling down and…what? Praying? Vomiting? Spitting sunflower seeds? Catching a few ZZZs? Probably the real answer isn’t nearly as funny so I’m going to go with one of mine.
The Nationals brought the Racing Presidents with them to Anaheim for the series. So was this a) an incredibly stupid idea, b) a fine example of Interleague sharing of baseball cultures and traditions, or c) I really hate Interleague and fail to see how these two comments are mutually exclusive? You make the call. I initially thought the idea was kind of dumb, only because this is the Nationals’ tradition and it’s the Angels ballpark. But it was kind of fun to see and it provided a between innings icebreaker with the Nationals fans around us. I took the opportunity to ask, so, what’s the deal with Teddy? He’s really never won? I mostly knew the answer, but it was fun hearing all about the goofy, fun tradition from fans. We’d been talking a little between innings before that, but talked a lot more often after: relievers we love/who make us cringe, hitters who are starting to do better than their batting average indicates, overinflated contracts…it turns out Angels fans and Nationals fans have a frightening amount in common.
Nationals Catcher Wilson Ramos and Pitching Coach Steve McCatty meet with Pitcher John Lannan on the mound. All was going well for Lannan and the game was tied 2 to 2 until the Angels started hitting in the 6th. The Angels scored their third run shortly after this meeting and then Lannan was pulled. I love the photo because of the facial expressions and body language. I can only imagine the conversation that went with it. McCatty: Alright then, how are we going to get out of this? Lannan: Well, gee I don’t know Coach. I thought maybe I’d throw some strikes and get him out.
Mark Trumbo grows impatient during the meeting on the mound – again, with being able to catch glimpses of personality from these seats. Mark Trumbo is usually as professional in demeanor as a veteran so I was amused to see him visibly impatient at another break in this already lengthy at bat, with his cheeks puffed out like an exasperated little kid. Very cute actually. He ground into a double play this at bat, but was pretty solid at the plate this series. His average is creeping back up again and he is the American League’s rookie homerun leader with 13. Coincidentally, the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa is the Rookie Major League homerun leader.
The Nationals outfielders, Roger Bernardina, Laynce Nix and Jayson Werth meet during the subsequent pitching change. ‘Damn Werth, you have lots of friends over here too. You’re a real popular guy in Anaheim.’ Suffice to say, Angels fans were heckling Werth all night, which isn’t surprising. There are a few folks I see regularly in this section and the left most corner of the right field MVP section (Season ticket holders? Maybe, maybe not.) who heckle pretty much everyone, occasionally even our own players. Whether or not that was the topic of the outfielders’ conversation, I’m sure Werth is used to it by now.
Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells joke after Peter snags a fly ball to end the inning. The outfield chemistry is shaping up much better as the months role by. This is very helpful, especially with various assorted centerfielders, corner outfielders turned DH and the occasional second baseman flopping roles in the outfield on a regular basis to accommodate injuries, Interleague and random acts of lineup juggling.
Yes that is Torii Hunter right in front of me in right field. The news report prior to Monday’s game was that Torii took batting and fielding practice Monday and looked good enough to return soon, possibly as soon a Wednesday. Imagine our delight when they brought him in as an unexpected substitution in the top of the 8th inning. The whole crowd erupted and we went especially crazy in the seats around right field with our welcome backs.
Jorda Walden takes the mound in the 9th. Unfortunately this would prove to be another blown save for Walden, his third in a row, when he gave up a two-out homerun to Danny Espinosa. The young Nationals fan in front of us turned around and informed me “Blown Save”. Thanks kid, I kind of figured that one out on my own. No liner notes needed. So, am I worried about Walden? No. Not at all. When I started advocating making the rookie our closer, I knew there would be some growing pains. This is a kid who had every intention of being a starter and never thought about the closer’s role until it turned out he had quite the aptitude for it this season. So far, he has 18 saves (including last night’s) which is respectable. And when he does blow it, instead of crumbling, Walden is right back in the game to get the next batter. Monday night when he gave up the homerun, he threw the next pitch for a called strike and then coaxed the batter into a ground out to end the inning. And he was right back in the game on Wednesday night with a 1-0 lead on the line and got the save. That says something to me. We will probably witness a few more growing pains this season, but I have no doubts that Jordan Walden is our closer.
Scott Downs pitches in the 10th as Howie Kendrick (who moved to first base in the 8th when Torii came in to the game) moves into position. I mentioned we were chatting about relievers with the Nationals fans? Well, Scott Downs is one of the few I never worry about. When I look over to the bullpen and see Downs warming up, with that distinctive haircut easily identifiable across the field, I breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, he has an off outing here and there, but by and large he comes in and gets it done and he has five wins for the season, as many as some teams’ starters, to prove it. Monday night and the rest of the Nationals series was no exception.
Brian Bixler stands on second flanked by second baseman Maicer Izturis and third baseman Alberto Callaspo. Bixler reached 2nd on an uncharacteristic fielding error by Maicer. There were an annoying number of Angels fielding errors this series actually, but we recovered from all of them to sweep. I hope the errors are more an indication of tiredness from the epic Four Corners Road Trip than anything more trend setting, shall we say.
Peter Bourjos takes a long lead off third. I think it is safe to say that Bourjos has worked through his slump at the plate. He went four for five on Monday with one RBI and was a crucial component of the 10th inning rally, knocking a ground rules double into the stands mere feet from my seat, that put Callaspo in scoring position for Maicer Izturis’ walk-off single. Yes, when that happened I tapped the young Nationals fan in front of us on the shoulder and informed him “Walk off.” Fair’s fair right? Acutally, everyone was laughing both over the “Blown Save” and the “Walk Off.”
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!!