No, I’m not going to give my Angels a merciless tongue lashing. I’m not going to dissect their lackluster performances in both of their losses to the Yankees either. I will, instead, point out the single bright-shining event of the last few days. The Angels gained a half game on the Rangers and their magic number is now 4.
And how did this happen? My Angels had a day off. Oh, and Oakland beat the pants off the Rangers, 12-3. How else could it have happened? My Angels have lost some steam and frankly, I’m baffled by it.
The addition of Scott Kazmir to the starting rotation has done much to reinforce a slightly shaky starting rotation. We’ve seen the bullpen find their groove with Jason Bulger, Kevin Jepsen, Darren Oliver and Matt Palmer providing solid relief. They’ve continued to hit, though perhaps not on the grand scale we saw last month. But most of the starting line-up continues to maintain batting averages hovering around the .300 mark. They did out-hit the Yankees in the last two games but they’ve not been hitting in the clutch. On Wednesday, the Angels went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position! It’s as if all of the “post-season preview” talk that surrounded their games with both the Yankees and the Red Sox, had a terrible effect on my Angels. I certainly don’t have any medical experience (I do have a nifty box of Sponge Bob band-aids) but I’ve made my own diagnosis.
My Angels are suffering from a case of “post-season jitters” also known as the “championship chokes”. We’ve seen the symptoms before: sudden lack of confidence, uncharacteristic sloppy base running, sudden onset of unexplained errors. We know this is not typical of our usually sharp and on-the-ball (literally) Angels but it is an ailment we’ve seen in post-seasons past. Maybe this bug has struck early this season? And maybe, just maybe, it will run its course over the next week and be out of their system by the time the real play-offs start. Wouldn’t that be perfect?
I want my Angels to show up in October brimming with confidence, bringing their A game and being the superstars I know they are. I want bats blazing, lightning fast speed on the base pads and defensive plays being executed with the surgical precision that takes our breath away a second time when the re-play rolls.
Let’s face it. 2002 was magical…from start to miraculous finish. It cannot and will not ever be duplicated. But I don’t know a single Angels fan who hasn’t had a “feeling” about this season. There’s no denying it would be an amazing story of tragedy to triumph. I’m not saying the Angels should win the World Series because Nick Adenhart died. But I sure would love to see them win it for Nick. That would be a story. And my favorite stories all have happy endings.
Baseball…make someone happy.
My Angels followed up a four game sweep of the Mariners by taking 2 of 3 from the White Sox. All was good in Halo-ville. Then they got on a plane and entered the twilight zone, losing a make-up game to the Yankees and the first of 3 at Fenway. During both east coast games I was basically tortured by Mark Gubicza and Rory “Whose Side Are You On Anyway?” Markas as they kept referring to the games as “post-season previews”. Ugh. Not what I wanted to hear as once again, decent starting pitching was wasted by absent bats.
But as I started to seriously ponder my Angels’ post-season chances, I had to stop myself and consider the alternative to this dilemma. Granted, the Angels haven’t locked up the west but they are sitting 6 games ahead of the Rangers, giving them a more than fair shake all the way to the end. But so many of my fellow baseball fans have already had their hopes and dreams dashed as the dreaded “E” has shown up in their teams’ standings.
I’m sure fans of these teams will watch the remaining games…afterall, they’re fans. And there’s always a chance that their team will act as a spoiler and snatch the post-season away from one of their most hated rivals. There is a certain kind of pleasure in watching that happen. They’ll also watch simply because, once the season is over it’s a long wait until April of 2010. They may watch the play-offs and the World Series. Or maybe not. Sometimes there’s little interest in watching teams who may have smacked your guys around during the regular season celebrate in a heap of arms and legs in the middle of the field. That can be tough.
Diehard baseball fans will hang in there for all that October has to offer because their love of the game transcends their love for their own team. There’s no shame in that. They may also secretly harbor a bit of affection or respect for another team and will be quietly rooting them on in private. Sssshhh. I’ll never tell. I can understand that with a team or two.
Baseball fans may stick with it in October just to watch their most despised team go down in a ball of flames. Again, I can totally relate to this as well.
(That one was a toss up.)
And so today, I just wanted to express my sincere condolences to Rays, Jays, Orioles, A’s, Royals, Mets, Nationals, Reds, Pirates, Padres and Diamondbacks fans everywhere. I’ve been in your shoes. I know exactly how you are feeling. You gave it your all and fought the good fight. You observed every good-luck superstition you could. You yelled at your players, managers and front office personnel through your TV screen or in person at your ballpark.
You should be proud. Hold your heads up high. As a fan, you brought your “A” game. You held up your end of the bargain. You wore the gear, you flew the flag, you showed up at the ballpark, you skipped dinner with the in-laws to watch the game (good), you missed the birth of your third child because of extra innings (not-so-good). You gave it your all. YOU did not strike out looking with the bases loaded. YOU did not bobble an inning-ending double-play. YOU did not blow a save. YOU did not drop a routine fly ball.
No remorse. No guilt. No regrets. Sleep well this winter, my fellow baseball fans, knowing there’s always…well, there’s always…NO…I’m not going to say it. I’m not going to patronize any of you by throwing out that morsel of helpful advice, usually dished up by someone who doesn’t understand what it means to be a loyal fan. I’m NOT going to say “there’s always next year.” But what I will say is…there’s always the Angels!!! Well, if you’re examining other possibilites, let me give you my pitch (no pun intended but it’s appropriate, isn’t it?):
Great group of guys with catchy little nicknames like Figgy, Mighty Macier, Bam Bam, etc.
Not a prima donna among this bunch. It’s all about the team, NOT individual stats.
Cute little mascot that I swear, will grow on you.
The best manager in all of baseball. (Of course I’m biased. Duh!)
They OWN the Yankees. Need I say more?
I know the pain is still fresh, but I just want to give you something to think about in the off-season. Consider me an “Angels Ambassador”. If you’re thinking about making this life-changing move, leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I’d be happy to answer any questions or offer a little more persuasion, if that’s what it takes. Oh, and free thundersticks to the first 100 new fans who come aboard. (Must be able to pass a slightly invasive background check. Please have references available.)
Baseball…it keeps going and going and going…!
As planned, I headed out to the Big A for Wednesday’s day game, the last of three versus the Tigers. With my Angels in danger of losing 4 in a row, I had my rally monkey in tow and was ready to help my guys turn it around.
First of all, it was hot. Really, really hot. If you watched the game on TV, it I’m sure the stadium appeared to be practically empty. That was because nearly everyone with field level seats retreated up to the shade of the terrace level. Hardly any players were seen hanging out on the railing in front of the dugouts. They too opted for the shade-covered benches instead.
It may have been sizzling, but that stadium was a big, steaming bowl of yummy goodness! Torii Hunter had a two-run homer in the 1st, Joe Saunders looked great coming off the DL and we saw a couple great double-plays and Chone Figgins almost steal home. (Okay, so he AND the crowd missed the 3rd base ump call time-out…it was still a kick to watch and would’ve been the highlight of the game if he’d pulled it off!) Needless to say, I went to the game expecting a win and that’s exactly what I got.
Thursday night was another story. We were treated to the pre-game ceremony as Brian Downing and Chuck Finley were inducted into the Angels’ Hall of Fame. It was a very nice tribute to a couple of great players and the highlight reels were a trip down memory lane for everyone. It just would’ve been nice if the Angels could’ve won. Oh, and they didn’t just lose. They were shut-out. By Oakland. Ugh.
There’s not much to say about it. Once the game started and it wasn’t about Brian Downing and Chuck Finley anymore, it was all about Trevor Cahill. He was ON as he gave up just 2 hits in 7 full innings. Michael Wuertz pitched a clean 8th and Andrew Bailey got the save, giving up one additional hit. Ervin Santana had a decent outing himself, allowing the A’s only 2 runs in 6 innings and striking out six batters. Matt Palmer provided 3 innings of perfect relief. But the Angels’ offense just couldn’t get to Cahill. Torii Hunter had to bunt to get on base. I think that says it all. I must mention the incredible play Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar made in the 7th. If you haven’t already seen it on a high-light reel (it was #1 play of the day on ESPN), you really should check it out: Aybar and Izturis These two don’t get nearly enough credit. Even Torii Hunter called it one of the best plays he’s ever seen. The crowd clearly recognized brilliance when they saw it.
The game was another frustrating loss but it was a make-up game from April, the game that was to be played the night after Nick Adenhart’s tragic death. The Angels had a dismal month of April so we’ll just say “technically” it was an April game and move on.
I’ll just say, Friday night’s game began like an April game but ended like a 2002 October game. Kendry Morales had a solo HR in the 2nd but the A’s came right back and scored 5 runs in the 3rd after the Angels’ defense fumbled a couple of opportunities to get Trevor Bell out of the inning unscathed. The Angels were trailing 2-6 in the bottom of the 7th when their bats caught fire and blew the game wide open with a 7 run inning which included a 3 run shot by, again, Kendry Morales. When the smoke cleared, the Angels had won 11-7 and Kendry Morales had gone an amazing 5 for 5. He had a pair of doubles to go with his pair of HRs and tied his career high of 6 RBIs.
Ummm, no Tex. That’s SIX ribbies. You need two hands for that one.
Overall, it was a terrific come-from-behind win that seemed to wake up my boys and get them going. Combine the win with the Rangers’ loss to the Twins and the Angels are sitting 5 games ahead again.
After hearing the rumors all day, it was announced during the game that the Angels had acquired lefty Scott Kazmir from the Rays. Hopefully Kazmir will be just what the starting rotation needs to power through the rest of the season and beyond. He seems to have worked through any physical issues and had a strong outing in his last start, going 6 innings and striking out 10. In exchange for Kazmir, the Rays will get two promising prospects and…here’s the part that makes my stomach all queasy…”a player to be named later”. Those, without a doubt, are words no baseball fan likes to hear.
For those Rays fans who are mourning Scott Kazmir’s departure, it looks like I’ll be in your shoes very shortly. I know that being a fan means having to take the bad with the good. And it’s never easy.
Baseball…the road will never be the same.
Thursday night’s game, the first of four between the Angels and the A’s, came just in time. After 99 hours without an Angels fix, I had assumed a fetal position on the couch and was having trouble operating the remote because my hands were shaking so badly. My husband had tried pulling up old clips on the DVR (Garret Anderson’s 10 RBI game, Tim Salmon’s final at bat, etc.) but nothing was working and as the game began, my husband was on the phone with my mom and, although it’s all still a bit cloudy, I’m pretty sure I heard the word “intervention”.
By the time Kendry Morales hit a two-run homer in the 2nd inning, I was sitting up, clear-eyed and relaxed. What a great start to the second half of the season it was! Ervin Santana was amazing in 8 full innings. Granted, he’s got a terrific record against the Athletics, but something was different. Could it be the mouth guard he was wearing when he took the mound?
Is it possible that a little piece of plastic can make all the difference? If it can, perhaps every Angels reliever should trade their cup for a mouth guard. I say it couldn’t hurt to try. (And every man reading this says it could hurt. A lot.)
Well, maybe Joe Saunders could have borrowed Santana’s mouth guard on Friday night. He wasn’t miserable, but he certainly wasn’t having a great night. He gave up 5 runs into the 7th inning, walked 6 and only struck out 2 batters. The Angels knocked Oakland starter Trevor Cahill out of the game in the 5th, but they weren’t able to get much of anything off of A’s relievers. They were bested by the worst in the west. Yuck. At least the Twins took care of the Rangers.
It looked as if the Angels were going to run away with Saturday’s game. Chone Figgins started off the game with a home run, his second of the season. The Angels’ bats came alive in the 3rd when they pounded A’s starter Vin Mazzaro for 6 runs. But Jered Weaver wasn’t feeling good and it all caught up with him in the bottom of the 4th. He was “nauseous and woozy” and gave the A’s a chance to close the gap when they scored 4 runs of their own. But the Angels’ bullpen managed to keep a tight grip on the game and only allowed one additional run while the Angels scored 3 in the 7th. The Angels won 11-6 and once again, the Twins beat the Rangers.
Nothing could have prepared me for Sunday’s game. Okay, so that sounds a little dramatic. But seriously, the Angels had been hitting up a storm, they were sending John Lackey to the mound, they were playing the last place team in the west AND Oakland’s starter was a 21 year old rookie with a 5-7 record. Sounded like…
…a piece of cake, right? Totally wrong. Talk about a pitching duel. Lackey gave up the first of only 3 hits in inning #1 but Brett Anderson had retired 20 consecutive Angels batters and had a perfect game going into the 7th. Then, with 2 outs, Bobby Abreu hit a single that just made it by SS Orlando Cabrera. The crowd was on their feet to give props to Anderson and his 6 & 2/3 innings of perfect baseball. But at this point, Lackey had his own shut-out going and it’s pretty easy to figure out who I was rooting for. Anderson, who ultimately gave up only 2 hits, was replaced by Andrew Bailey after 8 and Lackey completed 9. There were nothing but zeros across the scoreboard going into the 10th.
And then, Bailey sent a fastball over the middle of the plate that Bobby Abreu sent deep, deep, deep over the right field wall and finally, the Angels were on the board. The A’s came up in the bottom of the 10th and Brian Fuentes appeared on the mound, hoping to secure a win for Lackey and pick up his 28th save. And that’s exactly what he did. I kept checking in on the Rangers/Twins game, hoping for another Twins win. Unfortunately, after a few extra innings of their own, the Rangers managed to come back and beat the Twins.
(Sorry, but I figured I owed it to my male readers after a video clip of one of their own taking a fastball to his junk.)
The Angels head to Kansas City 3 games ahead of the Rangers and 4 ahead of the Mariners. The Royals have lost some steam since we faced them back in April but it’s still nice to know Zack Greinke will not be popping up in the rotation. I know that makes me feel a little better. But Angels fans know, it’s the teams that aren’t playing well that seem to present the bigger challenge to the Angels and the Royals come to mind first in this scenario so we shall see. It’s been great to see the team hold up nicely with Torii and Vlady out. Brandon Wood, Robb Quinlan and Gary Matthews, Jr. are helping out and the playing time they’re getting will only increase their productivity. I am buckled in for the second half of this wild ride!
Now, because I am the proudest Bird Mom you will ever meet, I must mention that in the midst of all this mind-blowingly great baseball, we had a couple very important birthdays at our house. Sushi, our Goffin’s cockatoo, turned 6 on Friday and her brother, Sunny, our sun conure, turned 8 on Saturday. Here’s some quick videos of my babies!
Some day I will tell you all the story of that little red radio and how it won Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. It did, it really did!
Baseball…the only way to fly!
A weekend sweep of the Diamondbacks put the Angels in their rightful place…1st in the west!
I can’t say they deserved the ranking any earlier in the season. They looked woefully lost in April following the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart. They also had 3 of their ace starters on the DL and a bullpen that had a disturbing habit of giving games away in the final innings. There were cold bats, base running errors and a closer who had an extremely tough time finding the strike zone. But somehow, things came together and in recent weeks and we’ve seen the team really gel.
The Angels emerged from this final series with the Diamondbacks with the best record in the MLB for interleague play, 14-4. Anyone who wants to minimize that achievement needs to keep in mind that the Angels faced the Dodgers, the red-hot Rockies and the Giants, all of whom sent their very best to the mound.
I’m not at all surprised that the Angels are in sole possession of first place. I knew they’d get there eventually. Texas, Oakland and Seattle have all made instrumental changes to their teams that will keep this a tighter race than we’ve had in recent years. But I believe the Angels have that key formula that will take them all the way into the post-season.
They’ve got incredible defense, led by my ALL-STAR Torii Hunter, stealing HR’s and extra-base hits in center field. The infielders rarely fail to impress and have entertained us regularly with some amazing double-plays. The Angels’ offense is back on track with everyone in the line-up contributing from lead-off man, Chone Figgins, to their pitching staff who threw in a few hits of their own when given the chance during interleague play. The bullpen has settled down and closer Brian Fuentes has been outstanding during his latest outings. While this is all quite reassuring from a fan’s perspective, I believe the Angels once again have that one vital ingredient that has been lacking for the last few years.
Without real competition in the division, they haven’t needed it. Well, they’ve got competition now and the only way they’ll prevail is by having that one important element, that little bit of magic that carried them to a championship in 2002. What is it?
Baseball…it just tastes better.
It was definitely a team effort Tuesday night when the Angels beat the Rays. Jered Weaver was his usual reliable self and gave up 2 runs on 5 hits in 6 innings. He admitted the Florida humidity got to him and sapped his strength. He said had to change his jersey between innings because he was sweating so much. Not the “dry heat” we’re used to here in So Cal. Maybe the humidity moistened the rusty joints of the Angels hitters because they were able to combine for 12. They scored 2 runs in the 1st, helped along by 2 boo boos committed by the Rays.
Let’s face it. With the AL’s worst bullpen, the Angels need to catch their breaks wherever they can get them. In what ultimately was a one run game, watching Darren Oliver load the bases in the 7th and Jason Bulger give up a first pitch homerun to Ben Zobrist in the 8th, gave me my usual gameday anxiety. The difference was, things actually went the Angels’ way. When Carlos Pena hit a bullet down the right field line with the bases loaded, he should’ve had 3 RBIs. Instead, Kendry Morales stuck his glove out and stopped that ball dead in its track. He even looked a little surprised that the ball was in his glove as he stepped on first to double off Evan Longoria. I had to replay it 3 times to believe it myself.
And Brian “The Closer Poser” Fuentes had to be grateful for that game-ending double-play because it’s not like he’s coming in throwing strikes. Ironically, Jose Arredondo, who had my vote at the end of last season to take over when Frankie Rodriguez left, was sent back down to Salt Lake today, more depressing evidence of continuing bullpen woes.
My feel-good guy of the season, Matt Palmer, has lost his spot in the starting rotation with Lackey, Santana and now Escobar all returning from the DL. I’d like to see him get some innings of relief work. He’s definitely proven himself and we’ve seen his ability to pitch his way out of real trouble, a skill that current relievers haven’t seemed to master. Bottom line, he’s got the stuff so let him bring it!
Today was draft day. Call me old-fashioned but I’m a huge fan of the draft. I’m not talking sports. I mean this draft:
In my line of work, I encounter hundreds of young men seeking employment. On one end of the spectrum, I have to note gang affiliations based on neck tattoos and question gaps in previous employment due to time in the state pen. On the other end, I have to get used to being called, “Ma’am” and hear about extensive and valuable training received while in the military. Barring a Chinese invasion, I don’t see a mandatory draft being reinstated. Too bad. I’ve seen firsthand what a couple years of military service does for a young person. I’ve seen the discipline, the self-esteem, the pride. Before I’m labeled a war-mongering, right-winger (I’m not), let me ask you this: If you were a prospective employer, who would you rather I send you?
Back to baseball…okay, as I said, the Angels must capitalize on any break that comes their way to compensate for their inconsistent bullpen. They did tonight, turning Rays’ errors into runs. With Texas taking a beating from Toronto (0-9), the gap is once again closing. But this is far from a 2 team race as Oakland has steadily gained ground, winning 8 of their last 10, including a 7 game win streak. In the east, the Red Sox and Yankees are battling head-to-head for the top spot and no one’s running away with it in the central. It’s June and it’s still anyone’s game.
Baseball…never let them see you sweat.