April 2011

Dan Haren Sees Jered Weaver’s 15 Strikeouts & Raises Him One Complete Game Shutout

In an interview prior to this evening’s game, Dan Haren was asked about Jered Weaver’s stellar, personal single game strikeout record breaking performance on Sunday. He laughed and responded in an affectionate sounding tone that it was getting harder and harder to follow Weaver in the rotation. How do you follow a performance like that? Well, if you’re Dan Haren, you stride out to the mound, throw first pitch breaking ball strikes and other nasty stuff and pitch a one-hit complete game shutout! Boys? This one-upmanship thing? It’s seriously working for me. You can keep that right on up all season. Please!

This evening’s 2 – 0 win over the Indians was, quite simply, one of the best games I have been privileged enough to attend. I am absolutely euphoric as I sit here typing this and, at the beginning of the evening (Hey, I haven’t gone to bed yet, so it’s still the same evening!), I had no reason to believe I would even be in a good mood. I never leave work when I intend to and this evening was no exception. Still, I was making good enough time plop into my seat next to Seth more or less when the teams were delivering their lineup cards…until the freeway came to a dead halt a mere two offramps from my destination around a five car fender bender, roughly 15 minutes before first pitch.

Near the end of the second inning, and in quite a foul mood at this point, I finally set off across the parking lot toward the Big A. Thirty feet from the stadium gate, my ticket flew out of my hand, well out of my reach and looked ready to disappear entirely before I could do anything about it, when a tall gentleman in an Indians jersey reached out with long arms, snagged the runaway ticket and handed it back to me. I could have hugged him. I burst into the biggest grin and literally exclaimed My hero! Thank you!! I finally arrived at my seats, mood much improved but still bummed that I had missed two full innings plus an additional batter. But all it took to bring my mood full circle to excitement was a glimpse of that glorious field and the pitching display going on in front of me…that and the fact that my husband already bought us dinner so I didn’t have to miss another pitch, even though it was easily my turn to do this. What a guy!

Fortunately my comedy of errors getting to the game did not extend to the field. What. A. Game! Dan Haren! Peter Bourjos’ first homerun of the season. Dan Haren! Mark Trumbo’s first major league homerun ever! Oh, and did I mention Dan Haren? ;) And then, just when it looked like the Indians were going to get a solid extra bases hit with the potential to bust the game wide open, who should come flying from right to center and seemingly straight up the high part of the wall but Spiderman himself, Torii Hunter. No lie, in the middle of one of the best pitching performances I have seen live at the stadium, this was one of the best catches I have ever seen live at the stadium. You will surely see it on the end of the week highlight reels. But even with that play, this was entirely Dan Haren’s show. He never let a runner get to second the entire game. He got the leadoff hitter out in all nine innings. He struck out eight batters. And it looked like he was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes tonight. It was a masterful performance.

The other fun thing about this game was we wound up having some of the best seats possible to appreciate it from. I am kind of a ticket snob, though economics have tempered this tendency considerably, and I had never sat in the upper deck before. But I really wanted to go to this game, I just had a feeling about it, and the tickets that met my strict price limits were in the front row of the lowest part of the upper deck, a section and a half behind third base. I have sat much closer before, but this was one of the clearest views I have ever enjoyed of the ball sailing over home plate…that and I had a great vantage for Torii’s catch and both homeruns. Really, especially considering how it started, I could not have asked for a better evening. We were even surrounded by enthusiastic fans, not as much a given as you might like to think. I cheered and yelled and cheered some more pretty much the entire game. I was happily quite hoarse by the time Haren fielded one last grounder and tossed it to Mark Trumbo at first for the final out…almost looking like he was going to run it over and get the out himself.

I can see myself at work tomorrow with a big giant grin on my face, and that, dear coworkers, is why I sound like Kathleen Turner today. Ha ha, I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way. Sorry, couldn’t resist. ;)

Dan Haren, sitting ‘em down one by one (Our view was not quite as far away as this photo would lead one to believe):

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Look past the big screen with Haren’s post game interview and the note the Halo in it’s happiest natural state, all light up like Christmas:

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A Tale of Two Wins – Angels vs. Blue Jays

I’ll spare you the unnecessary Dickens parody. Suffice to say this weekend’s games against the Blue Jays were two very different wins for the Angels, one ugly but ultimately effective and the other, as pretty a pitching clinic as one could ask for.

Saturday’s game was quite the weird one. When I spoke longingly of single admission double headers a post or two ago, this is not quite what I had in mind. Matt Palmer had a rough start and wasn’t quite able to complete five innings. This is a shame. I really wanted to see him prove himself. Then we proceeded to work through all seven pitchers in the bullpen with mixed results before Dan Haren – yes, that Dan Haren, from the starting rotation – finished the game and earned the win in the 14th inning. Can I just say, this is why I adore Dan Haren. He’s old school, stepping in to do whatever the team needs when the team needs it. I believe he would still make his start tomorrow if the team let him…and I wish they would. Early pitching woes aside, this game was a great battle of the bats for four innings – we were up, then the Jays and so on. Then the runs dried up and hijinks ensued for the remaining ten innings as bad base running, walked batters, butterfingered position players, outright errors and stranded runners abounded on both sides.

There were good plays too, successful pick offs from Jeff Mathis and Rich Thompson, an out at home plate, etc… But the weird overshadowed the good in my opinion and I do not share the announcers’ enthusiasm for the bullpen’s performance in this game. Yes, they were troopers and prevented runs from scoring for 10 innings, which is no slouch, but they did it with too many walks, too many instances of bases loaded and too many innings that barely ended in disaster. They pulled it off, which is an improvement, but they way they pulled it off makes me question their ability to pull holds and saves off in the future. In the end, the Angels prevailed because of a, shall we say, questionable yet favorable runner’s interference call that prevented the Jays from scoring in the 13th, two timely hits in the 14th and the fact the Peter Bourjos is lightening fast. Bourjos hit a two-out double and Maicer Izturis brought him home with single. But it was Bourjos’ amazing speed, beating out Juan Bautista’s strong, quick throw to the plate by centimeters that really won the game. There is a reason this play was number 9 on MLB’s plays of the week this evening.

Sunday’s game, on the other hand, was fantastic. Jered Weaver pitched a gem of a start, beating his own single game strikeout record of 12 Ks with 15 Ks in seven and 2/3rds innings. He even managed a pickoff at first base, unusual for Weaver whose long limbs and cross body delivery don’t always lend themselves to catching the runner off the bag. It was truly a commanding performance all around and just what the bullpen, completely wiped out from the previous evening’s 14 inning marathon game, needed. Hisanori Takehashi came in to get the crucial last out in the 8th inning and Fernando Rodney, closer by default based on the number of pitches he and the other bullpen pitchers threw yesterday, looked like a closer today: three batters, 12 pitches, three outs and done. I am loathe to trust him again, but must give credit where credit is due. He looked good today. Unlike so many of Weaver’s starts last season, he had run support this game, including a Peter Bourjos two RBI triple in the 4th inning. I actually think that for most batters, this would only have been a double and that Mark Trumbo might have stuck around at third if Bourjos wasn’t on the verge of lapping him, so once again Fleet Pete makes quite the impact.

Any Angels win is a good day in my book, but I really hope to see more like Sunday’s this season than Saturday’s if at all possible. Of course, if winning this season winds up meaning a lot of 14th inning stretches, I’d rather sing extra Take Me Out to the Ballgames than the alternative. Saturday’s abuse of the bullpen (Of? By? Little of column A, little of column B?) has already had a huge impact on the 25-man roster. The Angels optioned Michael Kohn and Kevin Jepson down to the Salt Lake City Bees, activated Scott Downs from the DL and brought youngster Tyler Chatwood up from the Bees. The 22-year old Chatwood, another one of the local prospects the Angels like to recruit, is supposed to get his first major league start against the Indians on Monday in order to give Haren an extra day’s rest. I am interested to see how this turns out. I saw flashes of brilliance in Chatwood during Spring Training but also the need for a lot more work. Of course, this means I will get see Haren, one of my two favorite pitchers, start on Tuesday when Seth and I have tickets to the game again…assuming the Angels can wrap up Monday in a mere nine innings and he doesn’t close again, of course. ;)

Angels Home Opener: A Disappointing Night in the Baseball Zone

Submitted for your approval: one normally mild mannered couple travelling companionably together down the 57 freeway as they do several times a month without incident. But this time something is different. Their voices grow louder and more excited and their gestures more enthusiastic. Their hearts beat faster, their anticipation increases to a child-like pitch and gooseflesh rises on their arms. Little do they know that they’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of lights out pitching and the sounds wooden bats striking balls, but of mental toughness; a dimension of wins and of losses, sadly this time the latter; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are a couple of chalk lines, a wall and a series of time honored rules startlingly complex in their seeming simplicity. That’s the signpost up ahead – it says exit Katella for Angels Stadium. Their next stop? The Baseball Zone. *Cue theme music. No! Not Buttercup. Never Buttercup!*

Friday night, as planned, we took ourselves out to the ballgame, to watch the Angels Home Opener against the Blue Jays. The weather was seriously touch and go for a while there, including a complete downpour as I was leaving my house. But it stayed dry in Anaheim through the game and the Friday Night Fireworks that followed, only starting to pelt us with a few fat rain drops as we headed out to our car. Would that my Angels had held the lead anywhere near as well as the clouds held back the rain.

The game itself? It started off well enough. Ervin Santana pitched like the good Ervin, the one with control who can throw strikes. Peter Bourjos is amazing to watch in center, flying across the grass, making difficult catches look effortless. We had a few good hits, scoring one in the 1st inning and another in the 3rd for an early two run lead. The Jays were slipping and sliding all over the outfield. Everything was off to a great start, and then we started to strand runners. Vernon Wells failed to cash in on runners in scoring position. Additional batters started to strand more runners. A two run lead is not a very safe thing deep into the game and it didn’t last. Santana gave up three runs aided by a few sloppy plays in the outfield.

By the time they brought in Fernando Rodney in the 9th – I know, not a save situation, but I was surprised! – I felt absolutely deflated. Rodney performed acceptably, allowing one runner on, but no walks and no additional runs. However, bringing him out just cemented the frustrating sense of one step forward, three giant steps back I was having after the stranded runners. Oh well, you never know what wonders or horrors you might witness when you visit: the Baseball Zone! I prefer wonders myself but I suppose that, in the end, a bad Friday night at the ballpark is probably better than a good Friday night almost anywhere else…and it’s only April 9th…But Conger needs to stop swinging for the fences, Wells needs to find his bat and work on running forward to make catches, and everyone else needs to work on hitting with runners in scoring position. I’m not panicking. All of this will come in the next few weeks. But…seriously!

The Opening Day experience outside of the game? It was fantastic, from the first goosebump raising view of the field coming up through the stadium to our seats, to that first bite of wonderfully nasty ballpark hotdog that I have been jonesing for, for months. Eli Grba, the first Angel selected in the team’s first draft and the Angels’ first opening day pitcher threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Grba is the first of a planned string of Angels alumni to perform this duty throughout the season. He was so cute in the interview before the game, talking about how nervous he was to throw out the pitch after so many years and how his friends would make fun of him if he bounced it on the ground. He did just fine, but it’s amusing to note that friends are the same everywhere no matter what the generation, and your best friends are the ones who’ll affectionately give you the most grief when necessary…or when not so necessary.

The front office has switched up some of the music and the pre-game slide show for the 50th anniversary and, while I need to see it a few more times to remember all of the details, I’m enjoying it so far. The flashback 1980s uniforms were a trip and a half. I remember these uniforms well from any number of Freeway Series I watched as a kid, though I was rooting for the other guys back then. I am amused that the concept of flashback uniforms extends to colors, logos and jersey designs, but the cut of the pants remains identical to the modern uniforms – no skinny pants fashion faux paus for the sake of historical accuracy here. Actually I laugh mostly because I can picture the players emphatically vetoing the silly looking and, no doubt, less comfortable 1980′s pants.

Fortunately, win or lose, here’s the thing about the Baseball Zone. It’s absolutely addicting. The first question I asked my husband this morning? So, do want to go to the ballgame tonight? He reigned me in a little – someone needs to sometimes! – but only just a little. We’re going back on Tuesday night and trying it out in the view level this time because my no more than $15 per ticket and try to keep it under $10 except for very special games rules are in full effect. Sometimes I reign myself in too. :)

Hopefully this evening’s game, which is about to begin, will be better. Kaz is conveniently injured and on the DL. Maybe he really did hurt his back, maybe he didn’t but he always seems to go on the DL right before his first start back after being obliterated by the opposing team. Either way, I’m excited to see how Matt Palmer does. Hey Angels, how about a little run support please? And by a little, I actually mean a lot.

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Rain, Rain, Go Away. Come Back Again After Opening Day!

As you might have guessed from my title, sunny Southern California isn’t exactly living up to the hype at the moment. April showers and all that. Normally I would be fine with this. Drought year water restrictions are really annoying and I would like to avoid that. But tomorrow is the Angels home opening day and we have tickets and…and…okay, a rain out would hardly be an epic tragedy but I am starting to get seriously twitchy for a live game and the weather report is just teasing me – bouncing back and forth between dire predictions of a 60% chance of rain all day and then roughly a 30% change of rain in the morning and early afternoon.

I sure hope the rain clears out in time for the game. Seth and I could not be more excited and have a whole evening planned it. We’re even both leaving work early enough to carpool and still get there in time to watch batting practice, unheard of on a weekday. It will be nice to start the home opener on a high note after a 5 to 1 win over the Rays. Dan Haren picked up the win. He pitched very well and was no doubt pleased with the Angels generous, early run support after their stinginess last season. Though many were initially confused by the nasty stuff of Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, the bats were alive and well. Jordan Walden had his second outing since assuming the closer role and it was another one, two, three inning. I am so happy with this change! But I think that contests to give Walden a nickname and snazzy walk up music are a little premature. Let’s actually watch the kid play first before we saddle him with a nickname.

Oh, and the tickets arrived today! My husband and I will officially be travelling for baseball this summer. Fairly late in the 2010 season, I was commiserating with an old college friend about the state of our teams. Neither of us liked our chances for a post season and we both knew we would be experiencing withdrawal like symptoms all winter. Of course, his team’s ranking at that point was just so much more torture and it all turned out pretty darned well for him in the end. But we had so much fun goofing around, chatting about the game that he proposed an annual fan exchange program – in 2011 he and his guy will take my husband and I to a Giants game and we will take them to an Angels game. So we are heading up to San Francisco in July for the Giants/Dodgers game and we have great seats! For any family who may be lurking on the blog, first, thank you for reading :) and, second, I will not be wearing either team’s colors but will wear my Angels hat instead.

The Giants game happens to be the same weekend the Angels are in the Bay Area to play the A’s, so I also nabbed good seats for the planned Angels vs. A’s single admission, double header on that Saturday. Single admission, double header! Doesn’t that sound like a great throwback to childhood?! I am so excited, I can’t wait…for this weekend or for that one!

New Closer, Move Down + Angels Win!

It will be fun going to the Big A on Friday for the Angels Home Opening Day for all of the obvious reasons, but now I have an additional one. I can’t wait to talk closers with Barbara, whom I doubt I am alone in calling my favorite usher. A diehard Angels fan, Barbara is kind of our den mother in the Right Field Pavilion, smiling, chatting baseball and shaming drunken idiots into behaving themselves as needed to ensure a good game for all. We hashed out all the problems of the bullpen and our closing situation many times over the course of the season and, of course, like armchair managers everywhere, we had all of the answers. And both of us wanted the Angels to just bring Jordan Walden in to close already. I imagine she is as thrilled with today’s news as I am.

That’s right, it’s official. Mike Scioscia told reporters today that Jordan Walden is the Angels closer while Fernando Rodney works out his issues. This is an open ended decision. If Rodney recovers, he might join the regular bullpen or he might resume his closer role. If Walden seizes this opening and runs with it like I believe he can, he may be the Angels closer for the rest of the season. Quite possibly because the 23 year old Walden does not look old enough to convincingly order champagne ;) – even with the beard – he instead celebrated his new role this evening by retiring the side in the 9th inning to cement the Angels 5 – 3 victory over the Rays. Good show, Jordan. I raise my glass to you.

I am a realist. I know this is a lot of responsibility to put on a 23 year old arm and psyche and I am sure there will be rough outings here and there. But, so far, the kid does extremely well under pressure and between last season, spring training and this week, Rodney was getting to the point where he walked batters every appearance, increasingly with disastrous results. As long as the quality outings are in the majority, we’re significantly ahead of where we were this weekend. If Rodney recovers, the Angels can find any one of a number of uses for him. If he doesn’t, better to eat his check then deal with the blown saves. Seriously.

As for the rest of this evening’s game? (Okay, it was an evening game for us. If we want to actually watch the east coast games, we have to DVR them and watch them when we get home from work.) The bullpen still needs some calming down. Mr. Kohn, please settle down. You are often amazing but enough with giving up the homeruns already. It is anxiety inducing, not to mention letting my geek show just a little too much, to be shouting “Khaaaaaaaaaan!” loudly enough for my neighbors to hear so many days in a week. Other than that, it was a great game. Jered Weaver pitched a good one – 6 strikeouts over seven innings. Three walks though, which is unusual but didn’t cost us too badly in the end. There’s a reason we have phrases like mid-season form. He’s getting there.

Young catcher Hank Conger got the start and his first major league homerun. Howie Kendrick continued his hot bat streak and we’re scoring runs early, something we failed to do most of last season. Four stolen bases, a couple of great fielding plays, oh, and the season is now official – we had one truly terrible umpire call. Maicer Izturis made a diving catch and clearly caught the ball but the second base ump ruled that the ball hit the ground first. It was annoying, but ultimately didn’t cost us anything. In those situations (where it doesn’t cost anything), it’s actually funny to watch Scioscia’s usually impassive face become extremely animated and expressive. My husband and I frequently make humorous suggestions as to what Scioscia and the umpire might be saying to one another. Although, in this case, you could read Scioscia’s lips loud and clear several times.

We need less excitement from the bullpen. We need to start scoring runs in the middle of the game too. We have improved but still need to do better with runners in scoring position. We need to do something about Scott Kazmir. But, hey, we won. We have a fix in place for the closer situation. We have Scott Downs coming off the DL any day now. We’re hitting and we’re working on those other issues. Optimism, returning. What a difference a win makes but, more importantly, what a difference a closer going one, two, three makes.

Bats: 10, Bullpen: 3; I Sure Hope the Angels Get It

Ah, the Angels game today. Losing the third straight game to the Royals 12 – 9 in the 13th inning was…

So…um…yeah…Baby showers anyone? I went to my husband’s cousin’s baby shower today. I absolutely loathe baby showers. Isn’t that funny? I mean, I like kids. I love helping friends and family celebrate good news, but I loathe baby showers…

Right. The game. This is a baseball blog after all, so I probably should talk about the game. I have a fun, bantering relationship with the husband of one of my cousins and, helpful Dodger loving fellow that he is, he left the following questions on my Facebook wall round about inning 11: “Four runs in the last three innings and you’re still going extras? Are the Angels aware they’re playing the Royals? Further, are they aware that these are not the same Royals they’ll call neighbors next year?” Yeah, about that…well see…it was like this…

You know what the problem with baby showers is? It’s the stupid games. If we could just have a normal party, co-ed or still ladies only, without having to diaper a balloon or pluck tiny pins from rice or guess…well, you get the general idea…and I digress. Again.

So, back to the game and the questions on my Facebook. Well, when you start out the game with Scott Kazmir on the mound, he allows five runs in the first one and 2/3s innings, we pull him and then go the bullpen in the 2nd inning. Our bullpen. The Arson squad part duex. In the second inning. You knew the game wasn’t going to be pretty. Oh, and our “closer”? Walking 3 batters and allowing two earned runs in 1/3 of an inning? I’m just…

You know, today’s shower was actually fun! I think this really just proves my basic argument though. The wonderful ladies who planned it dispensed with the silly games…Oh, I’m doing it again aren’t I? That weird tangent thing? Yeah.

It’s not like the game didn’t have it’s high points. The offense was amazing! The Angels hit five homeruns! Five! And Howie Kendrick hit two of them. We hit doubles. We hit triples. Bobby Abreu went five for five. Peter Bourjos went first to home! Have I mentioned before that the kid’s just a little fast? There were a number of truly heroic defensive plays too. Torii’s catch. Maicer’s catch. Jeff Mathis’ tag at the plate. Fleet Pete flying in to bail Vernon Wells out of a jam and keeping two of the runners from scoring, at least.

We scored nine runs for crying out loud! Customarily, when a team scores nine runs, including five homeruns, etc., that team wins…unless our bullpen is involved. So I think you all probably understand why I would rather talk about anything, even that most dreaded of social obligations the baby shower, than about today’s game.

In all seriousness, it’s only four games and the Angels traditionally start out slow. We fans usually spend most of April moaning and groaning about how it’s the end of the world and the Angels usually shape up and then some by May and do well, with occasional bouts of ugly, for the rest of the season. The problem is that last season we didn’t. And, some of the reasons we didn’t are some of the same reasons we just lost three straight to the Royals. I usually don’t call for radical changes in early April but, after last season, spring training and this week, it’s time to call the Scott Kazmir and Fernando Rodney experiments a failure. Bring Matt Palmer back up from the minors and look for a closer. An effective one.

Opening Day Excites, my Baseball Snow Days Rock & an Epic Fiddle Player Surprises

Friday, literally before dawn, we rolled out of Los Angeles for Yosemite National Park to clean out my in-laws cabin for renovations – with great vacation options come great responsibility. Four hours later, we hit Fresno and my in-laws called to say no go, the cabin is snowed in. And I don’t mean, wimpy California snowed in, I mean my husband and I and his cousins digging all afternoon just to get to the shed to turn the power on and then starting on the cabin door, snowed in. So we grabbed shakes at In-N-Out and headed home. Breaking down the weekend so far: failed plans, I need to work a few hours later today to salvage the vacation day for a return trip to Yosemite, an eight hour drive for milkshakes, and unexpectedly getting to watch the game on Friday and Saturday. Hmmm…what does it say about me that I still think this adds up to a win? Sitting here luxuriating over coffee, brunch and an actual, live, for really real it counts, Angels game? I believe it says I have my priorities straight.

My thoughts on the season so far? Opening Day absolutely rocked. Jered Weaver pitched a Gem. Torii Hunter’s bat loves those K stadium fountains. I love, love, love our outfield…as I may have mentioned a time or two in the past. Jordan Walden continues to have my vote for closer of the future. Twelve hits! The bullpen got roughed up but didn’t actually blow the lead. It was a great game, a little too exciting there at the end, but a scary win is absolutely better than a sedate loss.

Mind you, the season is so young it isn’t even in diapers yet, it’s still in those pampers infant swaddling things, but I feel like I am finally watching Angels baseball after a poor imitation last season. The bats. The manufactured runs. The sacrifice bunts turned base hits. Both guys you would (Torii!) and would not (Happy Birthday, Jeff Mathis) expect going yard. Nailing the 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 double plays. Flying outfielders – Fleet Pete! Diving catches. Robbed homeruns. Great plays at the wall – heeelloooo Vernon Wells, and I bid you a hearty welcome to the team, good sir. A bullpen with a flair for the dramatic, especially the “closers.” Yes, unfortunately, that’s a hallmark of Angels baseball too, and one the team really needs to work on if we want to defy all of the predictions this season. I wish we’d pulled off the win on Friday but that one was close and, all in all, this is not a bad start to the season. More please, and by that I mean more like Thursday’s game please!

Edit: I said more like Thursday’s game. Thursday’s game! Grrrrrr…the bullpen…and the stranded runners…and the gorram BULLPEN! *Breathes deeply* Excuse me while I swear loudly and pound the coffee table a few more times.

* * * * *

Imagine my pleasant surprise this weekend when a friend of mine confirmed that I was not mistaken in thinking I saw a familiar face in the new Brian Wilson’s epic beard MLB commercial (below)…other than the obvious one, of course. The fiddle player on the right? An old, old friend of ours I am really glad to see getting some commercial work. It amuses me to no end that he is in this particular commercial given that he knows nothing about baseball. He thinks this is one of the strangest ad campaigns he has ever seen. I told him there’s nothing odd about it. It’s just your standard, every day, run of the mill commercial featuring a closer who says his beard is magic and that he’s a certified ninja assassin with a gimp superhero housemate he refers to as the Machine. What could possibly be odd about that?

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