April 2011

Friday Gourmet, Wine & Angels: Yay! A Win for Ervin Santana

I was a little worried going into this series. Yes, the Rays started the season badly, but I knew that wasn’t going to continue. They have been hot, hot, hot lately – just ask the Twins – and David Prince was on the mound. But, even amid the concern, I just couldn’t imagine Ervin Santana going any longer without a win. Fortunately, that turned out to be the better instinct. Congratulations on your first win of the season, Ervin, and here’s to many more. You earned it and man were you due – see, the guys can show you love with run support too, especially when you don’t botch it with a bunch of walks. Whooo hoo!

This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread: Tapas, Tempranillo y beisbol. I was in a really good mood today and felt like playing in the kitchen, so we had quite the array of tapas to nibble on during the game – garlic sherry mushrooms; orange, rosemary and pimento marinated olives; bacon wrapped dates; costini with ricota, Spanish chorizo, arugula and a balsamic reduction; and oranges. Hey, it’s dinner for the rest of the weekend too and it succeeded in relaxing my husband who’s had a rough couple of weeks continuing to find a cubicle seat every time the music stops at work. The Tempranillo is from Paso Robles’ Bodega de Edgar, who specializes in Spanish varietals, thus securing the continuing affections of my wallet. And let me just say that it’s a good thing we have Pilates so early on Saturday, because I have Edgar’s Garancha and Albarino in the closet too and the way the game looked like it was going after those errors in the third inning, opening a few more bottles was starting to sound like a mighty fine idea.

Before and after the third inning bobbles though – two hands please Erick, two hands -things settled down into a great tight game with the Angels ultimately emerging victorious – my favorite kind. Santana pitched a good game – less walks, more Ks and quick outs. There was no keeping Ben Zobrist off of the base paths, but at least Santana held him to one hit and one walk with no RBIs. The Angels’ bats recovered nicely from their one day longer than necessary vacation. Almost everyone had multiple hits – Bobby Abreau, Torri Hunter, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Alberto Callaspo. Trumbo’s homerun was a monster, absolutely beautiful to see. Everyone else had a hit except Jeff Mathis – come on Jeff, we know you can hit. Pretend they’re all postseason games against the Yankees, please.

Howie and Trumbo, each playing their more natural position again, and Bourjos all had great defensive games. Wells made a great play at the end. Fernando Rodney, gave us all a heart attack when his first pitch turned into a BJ Upton homerun, but mostly settled down and got the three outs we needed with only one additional hit so, yay. Jordan Walden has recovered nicely from his last appearance in which he recieved his first blown save and loss. He earned his fourth save of the season this evening, allowing only one hit. Double yay!

Our pitchers are finally starting to come back from the DL! Scott Downs pitched one inning tonight almost up to his usual level after a nasty, persistent stomach virus – one K, one walk, no hits, not runs. Joel Pinero takes the mound for the first time this season tomorrow and I loved his interview this evening. He sounds excited by the feats of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and eager to get out there and see what he can contribute. Heck, I can’t wait for him to be fully up to his usual level. Best of luck to you tomorrow Joel! …and kindly wrap yourself in protective bubble wrap after the game. Thanks ever so. ;)

Angels and A’s – You Can’t Win Them All. Sigh.

No team can win them all, that’s for certain. So you’d think I would be more calm and philosophical during a tight extra innings game on a late April afternoon…that I wasn’t really supposed to be paying much attention to anyway, what with the game taking place during business hours and all. I blame my computer. Okay. And maybe this tiny little obsession I have with Angels baseball. But mostly my computer.

I wasn’t going to have time for the game at all, until my laptop’s hard drive died a most inconvenient death the minute I tried to log into email…inconvenient because remote employees do not have access to shared network folders and I have been extremely lax about backing up my files on my own even though I really know better. Long story short, our IT guys are amazing and by 8 p.m, I had all of my files intact and a brand new hard drive. But for the 12 hours in between these two occurrences? Well, I quickly exhausted everything I could possibly do that was of a business nature without access to my own files and anything additional I could scounge. So from about 5 on it was me and the Angels and the anxiety of waiting to see if my files would pull through.

By the time we got to the 8th inning, I was so antsy between the close game, all of the weird plays and calls, and the unusual stresses of my own day, that I ditched the phone and sat in my car in the parking lot listening to the rest of the game on the radio – groaning over the terrible (game costing, really) umpire call, cheering wildly for Bobby Abreu’s RBI double, swearing loudly over the botched play…I mean triple…in left field (also game costing). It’s possible I even bit my nails…or at least looked at them in a way that was starting to make them feel uncomfortable. And all of this for one late April game? Clearly, it was my computer’s fault.

Removed from the passions of the game itself, however, I am philosophical about the loss. First, I have to give props to the A’s and Tyson Ross. It was a good game and Tyson Ross is definitely another exciting, young pitcher…grrrrr. Still, the Angels managed to keep the game close, even while displaying the team’s flaws. And any loss you can learn from…well…pretty much still sucks. But I guess it’s kind of like an unintentionally productive out – life would have been better without the out part but at least you have something to show for it. So, what have learned from the series against the A’s, wins and losses alike?:

  • Our pitching is strong. Weaver? ’nuff said. Chatwood? I am continually impressed by his confidence on the mound and ability to battle through situations where he gets himself into trouble. I anticipate him getting himself into trouble less often as the season progresses. And when Dan Haren has a “bad” outing (two walks, one hit batsman), it’s still only a three hit, one (unearned) run affair. Pretty darned winnable for the Angels. Can we give this man some run support please?
  • The Angels need to work on RISP. This is hardly news, but what was most apparent to me in this series is that we strand a lot of batters and miss opportunities even in a winning game, even in a high scoring game. It’s just less apparent at that point. We need to review situational hitting – stop overswinging on pitches in hopes of knocking it out of the park when a base hit would get the job done.
  • I’m not going to pick on our veteran players at the plate. No, some players aren’t contributing yet. Yes, this is the same thing Angels fanss say pretty much every April. There are small signs here and there that certain bats are starting to warm up. I fully anticipate not needing to bring this up any further by mid May.
  • Hank Conger is really good behind the dish and only going to get better but he and Haren should talk a bit and get on the same page. This way, they don’t have to argue pitches and Conger can keep Haren that good, striking out batters left and right, kind of mad instead of the bad, slipping and hitting batters with the ball, kind of mad.
  • Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells need to work together a little longer before they are fully in sync. Bourjos and Torii Hunter seemed to read each other well from day one last season, but I know this is different with every player. Most of the folks I hear are blaming the botched catch…I mean triple…on Wells. I’ve watched the replay a few times and I think it was Bourjos’ error. It’s the centerfielder’s job to call the ball, especially when running all the way into left field to catch it when the left fielder is about to make the catch. I’m not chewing on either player here, I just think this is one of those April learning moments – both need to communicate better with one another and Bourjos – greatly improved over last season when he was already frighteningly good – still has situations here and there where he needs to call the ball with more authority.
  • The Angels are better with Mark Trumbo at first base. Howie Kendrick has such a great glove at second that putting him at first always seems like a good idea for a game or two…until we have a game with difficult plays at first. I’m sure Howie could be fine at first with a solid month playing the position like he had in ’06, but why? Howie is a great second baseman and we have Trumbo to play first.
  • I don’t mind the line-up tinkering as much this season. I think that, in particular, switching between Bourjos and Erick Aybar as the leadoff man when Maicer Izturis is not available is keeping either one of them from feeling too much pressure and, as a result, we’re getting decent production out of both of them in the leadoff spot more games than not.

Not a bad position to be in in April, really, especially when time will take care of a lot of the problems on its own and there is still time to work on the rest. Interestingly enough, I think the A’s could take my bullet points, change a few of the specific details and say pretty much the same thing.

Weaver Continues to Dominate as the Angels Bring Their Losing Streak to a Halt

20110425 Angels vs As Lit Halo 1 - for blog smaller.jpgWhat’s what? Oh. That. Why, yes, that is a lit halo to the right there. *beams* Jered Weaver pitched a complete game shut out tonight to lead the Angels to victory over the A’s. With a record of 6 and 0 in the first 23 games of the Angels season, Weave now holds the franchise record for wins at this point in the season and is one of only four pitchers in Major League Baseball to go 6 and 0 in March and April.

I snapped the photo of the halo as we exited the game, having decided on a whim to catch the next Weaver start. Good decision. We managed to get to the game and to our seats just in time for first pitch, a rare feat indeed on a weeknight, and what a game. Weaver, of course, was very much on his game – ten strikeouts and only 1 walk. He did give up seven hits – three of them to Coco Crisp who really had a great game – but that is where the rest of the Angels came in, preserving Weaver’s shutout and proving that the poor fielding of the Red Sox series was nothing more than a really bad four days.

Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells all had great catches in the outfield. Jeff Mathis and Erick Aybar picked off Crisp at second on an attempted steal that saw Aybar sticking to Crisp like a burr and applying the tag as he overslide the base slightly. Aybar had another fantastic play, fielding the ball well onto the grass and executing a perfect leaping throw to first base just in time to throw out Daric Barton and end the 8th inning…okay, actually the Angels benefitted from the umpire’s angle on that call. Seen from another angle, Barton was just barely safe, but it was a really close play and bad umpire calls will certainly cut both ways over the course of a season – see previous post.

And the bats decided to pay a visit again! Everyone hit tonight except for Jeff Mathis and Torii. Poor Torii. He usually heats up with the weather so April is not his best month to begin with and, after last season, I just plain think he’s trying too hard. I’m sure his bat will not remain silent for very long. Wells singled, Alberto Callaspo doubled and then Howie Kendrick doubled to bring them both home in the bottom of the second inning to give Weave early run support. Timely hits by Bourjos, Aybar and Bobby Abreu provided additional runs.

All in all, it was a fantastic game for the whole team and the perfect cure for the Red Sox blues…until we visit Fenway next month where, hopefully, we can devise an even better cure, like winning a few games…but I digress. Even the Angels fans rocked this game. I am sitting here sipping hot tea to soothe a throat happily hoarse from cheering as I type this. Seth and I sat in the front of the Right Field Pavillion this evening and right field fans are usually loud and enthusiastic but tonight, everything was amplified and we treated the players to a cheering, yelling, clapping, sign waving frenzy of support. Asked at the end of his post game interview why he was pitching so well this season, Weaver first credited the rest of the team and then said “Maybe it’s all of these great Angels fans who come out and cheer for us.” And mentioned that the crowd cheering his name really pumped him up. How sweet is that? Lights out pitcher and great with the fans to boot.

Here are some photos I took of the game including my view from left center (4 rows behind the wall):

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Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells discussing the catch Bourjos just made in center:

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Gio Gonzalez pitching to Bourjos:

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Weaver’s post game interview broadcast onto the big screen:

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A Killer Play by Any Other Team & Ugly Angels Weekend

I love my Angels, as you have all probably guessed by now. But I don’t think you can be a diehard fan of one particular team without being an equally passionate fan of the game itself. As such there is no disloyalty in admiring feats of greatness performed by teams and players other than your own, quite the contrary. Baseball is one of our favorite museums and every diving catch, robbed homerun, clutch line drive, wicked change-up to strike out the side, and perfectly executed six-four-three double play is a work of art we would be philistines not to appreciate.

But how do you react when the not-your-team’s oh wow, any true baseball fan can appreciate how awesome this is play/catch/hit happens in a game against your team? It’s a real conundrum. Of course, you always root for your team. But for me, the pure baseball fan side of my brain is thinking Wow! Wow! That was amazing! I can’t believe I just saw that! What a play/catch/hit/whatever! and wants my body to stand up and cheer. While the Angels fan side of my brain is swearing a blue streak and wants my fist to shake angrily in the air or pound on the table.

Usually the reaction that actually bubbles from my mouth is very loud, starts out with a tone of grudging genuine admiration, finishes with a tone of passionate anger and anguish and sounds a little something like this (Note: Sections in quotations have been edited to make my more sailor-like proclivities safe for a general audience.):
Great catch, “when two people really love each other”er
Oh, nice play, “notoriously stubborn beast of burden” hole
Great hit, you “I question whether your mommy and daddy really made everything official before you were born.”

I think it’s an understandable reaction, and a one I find myself having several times a week. When we lose because of situations like this, that censored part above gets louder, longer and more creative. Every once in a great long while, a lost game might have so many of this sort of play that there is nothing you can do but calmly accept defeat with an understandable explanation along the lines of: Okay, my guys really need to be better about RISP but what can you do? Josh Hamilton was a human highlight reel, that “when two people really love each other”er.

This. Was not. One of the those games. Nor was yesterday’s game. In fact, seriously, nor was this whole Red Sox series. Oh, I had a few Nice play, “notoriously stubborn beast of burden” hole moments, especially where Dustin Pedrioa was concerned. But even though the Red Sox swept the Angels this series, keeping us to a measly five runs in four games with back to back shutouts to finish things off, I don’t think they played unbeatable baseball by any means. This is not a sour grapes, poor loser post. I am not knocking the Red Sox at all. Everyone knows they started out the season on the wrong foot…or, like, five of them. But there is no denying they are heating up, as I always assumed they would. They played pretty good baseball during this four game series. Very good at some points, but never lights out. Prior to this series, after the debacle that was opening weekend in Kansas City, the Angels were playing pretty good baseball. Very good at some points and occasionally lights out. There was no reason we couldn’t have at least split this series if we’d kept that up.

It’s not even a question that the Angels can play better ball than we did the last four games. How many Angels highlights from the Texas series were in the MLB Tonight Plays of the Week this evening? A lot. And Peter Bourjos’ amazing dead sprint to jump up and rob Dave Murphy of a homerun at the centerfield wall was the #2 play of the week, and deservedly so. I think the Boston series play was the fluke, not the Blue Jays, Indians, White Sox and Texas series. So, come on Angels. Pick yourselves up. Dust yourselves off. Get it together. Wake up the bats. Make your pitches. Score some runs. And, pretty please with sugar on top, call the darned ball. There’s a lot more baseball left to play and you can do this.

Friday Gourmet, Wine & Angels: Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. Yuck.

Thursday’s game was an exercise in frustration. Josh Beckett was dealing but the Angels had a very few opportunities early on and couldn’t capitalize on them. Tyler Chatwood’s start was okay and would even be considered good if he hadn’t walked five batters, the last of which proved costly. The Angels could have scored more runs after Torii’s 7th inning homer tied the game up. Erick Aybar could have been content with a double. The bullpen could have kept us in the game. And the extra innings heroics could have worked out. The umpires also could have made better calls – not all of the close ones were bad. Dustin Pedroia was safe at home *resigned sigh*, but at third? Only if running five to six feet outside the base path to avoid the tag is suddenly Kosher. Oh well, that was the fourth run and didn’t matter. They would have won with three. Fans also could have been classy and not thrown money at Carl Crawford. Or, to sum it up another way, after the game, I decided that helping my husband snake the drain pipe for the washing machine was more enjoyable than watching the postgame show. But I still had high hopes for Friday when we would send Dan Haren to the mound…oh boy.

This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, gourmet for varying definitions of gourmet dinner and the Angels game) spread: triple mushroom risotto with pancetta accompanied by a bottle of Cypher Winery’s Peasant, a lovely take on a French field blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tannat and Counise that tastes like plums and black cherries with hints of nutmeg, vanilla and anise. Making risotto was a therapeutic decision. After the tense extra innings drama and unsatisfactory result of Thursday’s game, I was anxious in the hours leading up to this evening’s game and, trust me, spending half an hour stirring, stirring, ladling, stirring, carefully judging texture and stirring some more is oddly calming. And it turned out well, if I do say so myself. Which was good because, the way this evening’s game went, starting it anxious might have proved fatal for the throw pillows.

Dan Haren wasn’t dealing tonight, which is bound to happen from time to time, and the rest of the team wasn’t backing him up consistently. Not with run support and not with defense either: a Wells bobble, Peter Bourjos with one highlight reel play and one blooper reel play, a Mathis passed ball and not a bloody one of them capable of hitting with runners in scoring position until the 8th inning. Not exactly a recipe for success. Okay, the safe call on Saltalamacchia at third blew goats, as did several others, and then he scored the first Red Sox run on the next hit. Demoralizing? Yes. But that was not a reason to fall apart for two innings. Bad calls happen. That’s baseball. So get productively angry and get the next guys out.

And yet, we still almost pulled it off. Timely hits in the 7th and 8th innings, and an equally timely Saltalamacchia passed ball – darned nice of him, really, after that call at 3rd ;) – finally put the Angels on the board and brought us within one run of catching the Red Sox. Then, it was the ninth inning with you know who on the mound. Ugh. Hank Conger got a hit though. In a déjà vu moment, we had hopes that Howie Kendrick could stick it out through another battle and get a hit this time. Who knows what might have been if Paplebon hadn’t benefitted from such a generous strike call on the second pitch. Howie may well still have struck out…but he might not have. Oh well. Who knows what might have happened if the guys had settled down immediately after the botched call in the third, or if Bourjos made the catch instead of blowing it, or if Wells had made the other catch for that matter.

So, am I panicking or even particularly worried? No. It’s only two games. It’s April. They can’t win all 162 no matter how much I would like them to and even quality players will have bad days, sometimes all at once. Am I annoyed and kind of deflated feeling? Yes. I am tired of getting beaten by the Red Sox, especially when they are playing good baseball but hardly unbeatable baseball. We should have won this one. Oh well. At least the wine and risotto were good.

So, guys, can we go get ‘em the next two games? Yes, their pitching is tough but this is hardly an impossible request.

Angels Mess With Texas and Prepare to Take On Boston + Musical Fan Quirks

Now that was a fun game. Jered Weaver pitched his first complete game of the season, allowing only one run and remains…you know…I think I’m just going to leave that sentence unfinished. You all understand. Anyway, it was a good game all around. Matt Harrison pitched through hitless innings until the Angels figured him out. And then? Howie Kendrick sent another one into the stands. He’s currently sharing the AL homerun leader’s spot in good company – in a three way tie with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Maicer Izturis continued his hitting streak. He is currently the AL batting average leader. Peter Bourjos hit a triple and made another highlight reel catch in centerfield just for good measure. Jeff Mathis got a hit.

Vernon Wells hit his first homerun in an Angels uniform with his dad at the stadium to see it. I imagine feeling like you have the chance to show off and make your folks proud doesn’t ever get old, even for a major league baseball player. It was touching to see the camaraderie in the dugout as the team first gave Wells the silent treatment – with barely suppressed grins and shaking shoulders – usually reserved for rookies and then mobbed him, all smiles and laughter, to extend their congratulations. I think that clubhouse chemistry is one of the more important intangibles and I am thrilled to see so much of it in the Angels this season.

And now? Ah, first place. Alone at last. ;) But, as we all know, it’s only April, there’s a lot of baseball left to play and here come the Red Sox. While I was never one of the folks who expected this Red Sox team to win 100 games, I certainly don’t expect them to stay well below .500 for the season either. They are a much better team than their initial play indicated and have extra incentive to prove it as soon as possible. There’s a lot of history between the Red Sox and the Angels and it usually inspires both teams to…well…to put a polite spin on things, to play just that much harder. I am nervous and excited for this series and set to watch a couple of great match-ups starting this evening when young Tyler Chatwood goes head to head with Josh Beckett.

I have already removed the Dropkick Murpheys CD from my car for what will probably be the rest of the month in anticipation. Yes, this is my “superstitious” fan quirk. I don’t have a lucky shirt. I don’t have specific things I eat before or during games. But I can’t bring myself to listen to music closely associated with a certain teams while we’re playing that team. It’s not really a superstitious thing. I don’t think the Angels will lose if I slip in the odd Fields of Athenry here or there when the Red Sox are in town. It just feels really disloyal. Even though I have preferred my punk to come with bagpipes since long before Papelbon went Shipping Up to Boston. So, cue the Train and let’s play ball.

Angels’ Texas Two Step – Big Misstep, Stomp

So the little bird we were counting on to fly in at the last minute and tell the Angels where the Rangers rumored jewel encrusted armor might have a crack or two (Psssst, it’s right over the heart…er…pitcher’s mound, a concept we should well understand.) was apparently delayed a day by bad weather. But, once that bird did arrive, ooooh boy. 15 hits. 15 runs. 12 RBIs. Nice. Almost too nice to be entertaining…almost. *grins*

So, about Monday. Even if the aforementioned bird had arrived, C.J. Wilson is definitely not the weak point in the armor I was talking about and he was pretty on. To make matters worse, it was not the good Ervin Santana who took the mound for the Angels. It’s not Scioscia’s fault. It’s so hard to tell until you get a few innings in. Both the good controlled Santana and the bad out of control Santana have dark goatees – in clear violation of the evil twin statutes in the Marvel accords, I might add. What’s a manager to do…other than, oh I don’t know, pull him a little earlier? I know, I know. Then we have to roll a D-10 to see if the Bullpen self destructs. In this particular game, however, the Bullpen did a fine job, especially Rich Thompson. It’s possible they might even have saved us if it weren’t for the bats. Not to take anything away from C.J. Wilson, who clearly pitched a great game, but it’s not like we can’t hit him. We were hitting him, in fact. Just not with runners in scoring position. 10 hits. 1 run. But, enough about that.

Cut to today and you have a completely different game. Matt Palmer had an excellent second start. If he keeps this up, I will have even less worries about the starting rotation once you get past Weaver and Haren. And the bats, especially the junior bats, were on fire. Mark Trumbo, Hank Conger and Peter Bourjos combined for nine of the 15 hits and two of the three homeruns. Trumbo had four RBIs! Conger rocked at the plate! And Bourjos? Yes, it was a single and an error not a real infield the park home run but how many other ballplayers could get all the way home on that error? A few, but not many. The sight of him tearing around second and then third? He is so fast that it looked like a special effect. Vernon Wells, Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis also continued their hitting streaks and our fielding was spot on. Of course, the Rangers also committed four uncharacteristic errors and pretty much crumpled after the fourth inning, which didn’t hurt matters any. In fact, it almost took the fun out the game…almost.

But about the kids? I’m extending my Chatwood plea to all of them. Can we keep them, Sosh? Please. They’re young. They won’t be much trouble. Can we, can we? Well, they’re all safe for the first round of returns from the DL, at any rate. Erick Aybar came off the DL this evening and I am pleased with the corresponding roster change. Brandon Wood has been designated for assignment. The assumption is that he won’t pass waivers and will cease to be an Angel sometime in the next three days. Wood seems like a nice kid. He’s got pretty good moves at short stop and I wish him well wherever he lands, but it’s time. It’s more than time. The Murphy’s Law corollary pertaining to baseball changes of scenery being what it is, expect Wood to become a 2011 batting champion runner up somewhere else, ha ha ha.

So, there you have it, two very uneven games. They killed us once, we killed them once and we’re still tied for first place…an unimportant April 19th 1st place, but still. Tomorrow, the rubber match, with our hero, Ace #1, Jered Weaver – as opposed to our hero, Ace #2 Dan Haren :) – appearing on the mound for the Angels. He will duel it out with Matt Harrison, a Nolan Ryan favorite and all around tough customer. Hopefully both teams really show up this time and make this the game it should be…with the Angels ultimately winning, of course. This could be a heck of a game.

Angels Weekend: Of Brooms, a Youth Uprising & the AL Central

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!!

Friday Night Wine and Angels: Rain Only Delays the Win

This is a very simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball…except when it’s pouring rain and even making the simplest of catches or making contact with the fattest of meatball pitches can become fodder for a Keystone Cops remake. So Friday’s 4 – 3 victory against the White Sox was interesting, entertaining, maddening at times, and very, very wet – seriously, my hat is off to all of those tough Chicago fans who stayed for the whole game – but ultimately a win! This breaks the Angels seven game losing streak against the White Sox which makes me very happy indeed.

Jered Weaver did not have one of his better games but a less than great start for Weaver is still a pretty darned good start in the grand scheme of things and, when the Angels give him run support as they did last night, is usually enough to secure a victory. I was a little worried in the third inning, after he gave up a handful of hits and the infield and outfield each blew a play in rain aided, blooper reel worthy fashion. But then he stalked, nay stomped, off the mound with a string of curses at himself that required no lip reading expertise to interpret and I knew we’d be okay. When Weaver gets angry, he usually channels it back into the pitching with wicked effect.

The Angels still need to work on RISP and some guys had quiet bats, but Maicer Izturis was on fire, going 3 for 5 with a two RBI double. Mark Trumbo continues to hit well. Vernon Wells found his bat for the second game in a row and Peter Bourjos continues to show how speed can create a hit where you didn’t think one was possible. I got a kick of Mike Scioscia and Mike Butcher basically overriding the umpires’ second, hesitant, rain delay call in the bottom of the ninth, sending the Angels back out into the field to warm-up and even tossing Jordan Walden a baseball themselves until the umpires changed their mind and told the grounds crew to stop rolling out the tarp they only just wrestled into position.

So, about the Angels’ bullpen? I am sitting here icing my knee after the Saturday edition of my thrice weekly beating as I type this and I. Hate. Ice. Hate it. I do the ten minutes on, ten minutes off thing for an hour several therapist friends recommend because I can see the therapeutic benefits, but it never fails. The burn gets so stabbingly painful that I want to start clawing the furniture and chucking the ice bag across the room at nine minutes on the dot. Every. Single. Time. And, yet, I still think I would rather spend large parts of the 8th inning in a complete ice bath than watch Fernando Rodney play 8th inning set up guy again. I keep hearing how much Rodney has improved since he adjusted his mechanics but I am not seeing it. No, he didn’t allow a run, but he walked a guy and allowed a hit and we had to get the last two outs with runners on 2nd and 3rd. But, he got out of the inning and then Jordan Walden went one, two, three. It’s a wonderful new feeling to have a closer who closes.

Even with the rain abetted clumsiness and eight inning drama, it was a fun game to watch and this Friday saw the “season premiere” of Seth’s and my Friday Night Ritual – a nice dinner, a good bottle of wine and the Angels game, usually on delay so our commutes dont deny us a single pitch. This Fridays spread? Gourmet a’la lazy chefs – crostini with pea mint pesto or mushroom tapenade, prosciutto and apples with Chronic Cellars’ excellent red blend Sofa King Bueno chosen because the Chronic guys aren’t lying. The wine really is Sofa King Bueno.

And now the ice is finally off my knee – Yay!!! – and I am ready to enjoy watching what the new kid can do on the mound in his second start. Play Ball! …when the rain stops of course.

Random Thoughts on an Angels Off Day

Extra Innings
It could be my memory playing tricks on me, but the number of extra innings games played out so far this season seems unusually high, considering it’s only April 14th. The Angels alone have already played in three extra innings game and we’re set to play the White Sox this weekend who have already played in five extra innings games. At the moment, the Angels extra innings record (2-1) is better than the White Sox (2-3) but the Angels’ one loss was the only extra innings game where they were the visitors. So what does this mean for the weekend? Will the Angels and White Sox mutual flair for the dramatic cancel one another out so the game lasts a mere nine innings? Or should we Angels and White Sox fans brace ourselves for a couple of 14th innings stretches and beyond? Hmmm, I wonder. Do they do a 21st inning stretch? ;)

Vernon Wells
Like a lot of Angels fans, I am disappointed that Vernon Wells didn’t come on board and instantly light the scoreboard on fire with the heat of his mighty bat. However, while I certainly didn’t expect him to be at 5 for 49 on April 14th, I wasn’t really counting on the other scenario either. I know that sometimes bats warm up right away and sometimes they take a while. I mean, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, Victor Martinez and Juan Uribe are all hitting at or below the Mendoza line at the moment. At the beginning of any season you can pick a list of similarly big hitting names with temporarily hibernating bats. Does anyone seriously believe these guys will stay batting that far below their career averages for the rest of the season? Didn’t think so. I’m not saying we can all expect Vernon Wells to bat .400 this season or anything like that, but the man’s career average is .278, so assuming anything less than a productive batting average for the season seems equally silly.

Booing him already, as some have done, is outright ridiculous to me. I loved Angles Live Radio Host Terry Smith’s response to a particularly annoying fan on this front. The fan called in berating Wells and how much we’re paying him for a batting average just above .100 and had already written the whole thing off as a failure. Smith sounded weary and annoyed with the caller’s argumentative tone and asked if he honestly thought that Wells’ batting average would not improve this season. The caller said he really didn’t believe Wells would improve his average and Smith responded in a deadpan voice. “Well then, you clearly don’t know very much about the game of baseball. But you got on the air this evening so I guess you should be proud of that.” Well said, Terry Smith, well said.

My thoughts? By all means, be disappointed Angels fans. It’s disappointing. But also cut the guy a little slack. It’s April 14th. Wait and see what he can do in a few more weeks. Oh, and ignore the stupid contract. It will drive you crazy and think about it – yes, it’s a ludicrous contract, but why should we care? Personally, unless I hear that the Angels are unable to spend money they need to spend to keep or obtain new players, that the other players are upset by the contract or Vernon Wells never makes it above the Mendoza line, I really don’t care how much they’re paying him.

Starting Rotation
I didn’t think I would be saying this when the season started but our starting rotation is a little scary right now. Certainly not Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. They’ve been amazing so far this season and show no signs of stopping. And Ervin Santana has been alternately good and a trooper, battling through a less than stellar start where his speed just wasn’t there to at least keep the Angels in the game for the bullpen and the bats to take over. Hey, some days are like that and there is a lot to be said for not crumbling and continuing to fight your way through it. It’s just that after Santana our rotation gets a little…um…improvisational.

Our number 4 and 5 starters are on the DL – where Kaz can stay indefinitely in my opinion barring miraculous improvement! – so the Angels have been using off days as a phantom start day and hosting a revolving door for the other spot. Tyler Chatwood is supposed to get his second major league start this Saturday but for the next vacant start, who knows? Matt Palmer again maybe? Chatwood showed a lot of the poise under pressure and ability to battle through a bad start that I just praised in Santana on Monday. Now that he’s gotten the obligatory Welcome to the Big Leagues, Kid homerun and an extra one just for good measure out of his system, hopefully Saturday will be more like his later innings and Chatwood will prove a useful replacement.

Regardless, so far the season is going reasonably well and it’s been anything but dull. Occasional anxiety attacks interspersed between periods of contentment and even euphoria seldom are. ;)

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