June 2011

The Day(s) the Angels Bats Stood Still (with runners in scoring position)

Okay, so that title could accurately describe most Angels games this season, including games we win. But, after scoring only 10 runs in the last 6 games (or the month of June so far, if you prefer), I felt it was particularly appropriate today. Mercifully, and quite improbably, the entire AL West lost on both Monday and Tuesday so this hasn’t hurt the Angels as badly as it could have, though it means we missed to stellar opportunities to gain ground on Texas and Seattle. I’m not seriously pushing the panic button yet, but Klaatu barada nikto already! Angels stop the team’s self-destruction now, while we still can without an extremely difficult slog uphill!

I spent the majority of Monday’s game against the Rays alternately begging, pleading and threatening in the direction of the TV for the Angels to just score some runs in the plural. No dice. Last night was sadly much of the same, but it was bittersweet. The loss was a blow, but any night at the ballpark, especially an unexpected one, can only be a good one. Yes, an unexpected night at the ballpark. My husband called me just before four yesterday, obviously very busy at work, and barely had time to listen to my excited “Hell, yeah!” response to his “If I told you we had the company seats tonight could you run into Pasadena and pick up the tickets?” before rushing me off the phone with an OkayThanksCallYouLater. Tease.

Except he wasn’t teasing. (Also, he wasn’t rude. We give each other leave to outright hang up on one another at work if necessary. Business is important and when it has to come first, well then, it does with no whining or hurt feelings.) Long story short – sales contest, Angels tickets reward, amazing company seats and your intrepid blogger’s mission, which she ecstatically chose to accept, was driving from Whittier to Pasadena for the tickets, to Azusa for the Angels gear and camera, to Brea to pick up the husband and then to Anaheim for the game. A journey of 75 miles, in less than 3 hours, in L.A. rush hour traffic…and we just made it inside the stadium by first pitch, whoo hoo!
The view from the seats – yes, that is home plate you see. We were ten rows back from the sign in front. Just, wow! I only wish we could have seen an amazing comeback from these seats. If I were ever so lucky as to be outrageously wealthy, I wouldn’t have a box, I would buy season tickets someplace like this – on the field, home team side, close to plate but still on the dangerous side of the net and as close to the front row as I could get.

The view from the company seats. I hope my husband is lucky enough to earn these again. :) Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Dan Haren on the mound, executing the brief pause in his delivery. I call it the antici…..pation delivery. This was Haren’s first time back on the mound after the back pain that delayed his originally scheduled Saturday start – because he was able to pitch in the same spin through the rotation, it counts as a delayed start, not a missed start, so his personal record remains intact. He was really working for each pitch in the first four innings and my initial thought was that he started back too soon. But he worked back into a strong rhythm after that and looked as good as ever by the 5th. I guess the guy really did just need to get out there and pitch. My hat’s off to you Dan. Even with the rough patch, you pitched well enough to win.

Dan Haren on the mound, executing the famous - and wickedly effective! - pause in his delivery. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Bobby Abreu in left field. Because he is Mike Scioscia and this is what he does, but more so lately because of the team’s miniscule RISP, there have been quite a few lineup shakeups the last few weeks. Sorry Bobby, but last night’s lineup resulted in one of my least favorite outfield configurations – Bobby in left, Vernon Wells in center and Torii Hunter in right. We have absolutely zero speed on the left side of the outfield with this configuration and less speed than ideal in the center and on the right. Also, Wells is much better these days in the smaller area of left field and he just plain doesn’t play our center field wall well. The end result was a triple to left that should have been a double and a double to center that should have been an out, among other issues.

Bobby Abreu in left field, preparing to break with the pitch. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo and runner Casey Kotchman (At least, I’m 90% certain it’s Kotchman based on the order of the photos. Let me know if I am wrong) move with the pitch. This was partially just me playing with the camera from our close to the field vantage, but I like the photo. Mark Trumbo has been a bright spot in terms of hitting for power and continuing to produce during the team’s at the plate slump. It was a shame that his leadoff double turned triple by an error in the 7th was wasted.

First baseman Mark Trumbo moves positions with the pitch as Casey Kotchman takes a lead off the bag. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Hank Conger maneuvers behind the plate. This is partially another Kristen was playing with camera again (see the ball), and partially a Kristen really loves catchers photo. I can’t help it, most of my favorite players are catchers (or centerfielders…or short stops…or more or less anyone in an Angels uniform ;) ). What can I say? I admire the guy who calls the shots on the play, holds the pitcher together when things are getting rough, and faces down major league freight trains bearing down on him several times a game, while he blocks the plate like a badass. Catchers rock! And I think Conger is shaping up to be a very, very good one.

Catcher Hank Conger moves into position with the pitch as Reid Brignac decides to take this one. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz is one of many MLB officials who helps guage the direction the play is going with one hand on the catcher's back. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Joe Maddon says, oh and one other thing during an argument with the umpires. I still haven’t watched the replay myself, wherein it sounds like Johnny Damon was in fact out at the plate, as it appeared from my vantage pretty much right there, but it was a really close play. Great throw from Torii to the plate and great execution by catcher Hank Conger either way. And wow, Damon really is playing like his younger self again on the Rays.

"And another thing..." Rays manager Joe Maddon argues a close call at the plate. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Howie Kendrick at the plate with Bobby Abreu on deck. Howie, less than a week off the DL, had a strong ground rules double hit this evening and Bobby continued his streak at the plate, going 2 for 4, both of which were bright spots.

Howie Kendrick at bat with Bobby Abreu taking practice swings on deck. The Rays' John Jaso is catching. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Torii warms up before his final at bat. I really hate it when Torii strikes out and especially in the last inning, because you can see in his face how much not coming through bothers him. But he went 2 for 4 this game so maybe things are falling back into place for him.

Torii Hunter warms up before his final at bat as Alberto Callaspo warms up behind him. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Erick Aybar looking sheepish – as well he should after those plays at short. This photo montage wasn’t meant to be a litany of the Angels ills last night, but it’s hard to be a complete Pollyanna. Aybar is one of my favorite short stops most of the time. But every few games he starts making errors and missing plays such that it boggles the mind to think it’s still the same guy at short. This was one of those games, though he did help out with a hit to open the first inning and his outs at the plate came early enough in each inning that he was not one of the game’s rally killers.

Shortstop Erick Aybar does not look happy in the later innings of the game. Vernon Wells is seen behind him in centerfield. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Kevin Jepsen takes the mound. Jepsen had a refreshing outing for the last one and one/third innings – one hit, one intentional walk (I hate this play, and question it almost every time even though I know it is well accepted strategy.) and one very well timed and important strike out. When Jep pitches like this, I love to see him on the mound. Even though he is no longer number 65, he’s started walking out to Rob Zombie’s Thunderkiss ’65 again which is always a fun one to hear, especially if it helps Jep bring back the swagger of some of his better outings in years past.

Reliever Kevin Jepsen begins his pitch as second baseman Howie Kendrick moves into position behind him. Angels vs. Rays, June 7, 2001. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And that was my impromptu evening at the ballpark. Yay for the ballpark. Sob for the loss. Hopefully the Angels bring their clutch bats to the final game because I am about to leave for the game…with more planned tickets this time.

Sometimes You Win. Sometimes You Lose to the Yankees. Sometimes it Rains…All in One Weekend

Well, if the Angels had to lose two close games to the Yankees, at least it happened while I was out of town. It’s so much easier to stay detached you only check in with one of the games on your phone from time to time. You’re a lot less invested and barely notice all of the runners stranded in scoring position when you’re merely regaling your husband with your own rendition of the game day play by play ob the way back down the coast.

Seriously, when you can’t watch the game on TV, or hear your announcers’ commentary on the radio, you really only notice the good stuff – Bobby’s hitting streak, Trumbo’s homerun, Fleet Pete doing his thing, the fact that Howie’s back. All of the bad stuff – the missed scoring opportunities, the botched plays, the Yankees homeruns – barely even registers.  …You know, except for the part where I’m totally lying. April or September, squeaker or blow out, glued to the action before you on the field from the first pitch or just catching the score the next morning, losses always sting…especially when they seem to be coming in streaks.

It’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s only June. It’s just two losses. And all of the other clichés which, of course, are clichés for a reason. Yes, we’re only four games out of first and it’s just the beginning of June. Anything is still possible and I believe that this team can turn things around but it’s disheartening to be back under .500 on June 5th…and to have the AL West standings finally spread out by more than two games and be in third place and four games out. Absolutely fixable, but completely frustrating even so.

Anyway. Me? Out of town again? So soon? Well, that at least that’s more fun to write about than griping about the Angels. This weekend is the reason I was not going to go up to the wine festival last weekend until the Am Gen Tour was coming through and I decided that practicality and responsibility are really terribly overrated concepts. So this weekend, we were back up in Paso Robles for the Seafood and Sangria Summer Kickoff Party at Rio Seco, the baseball winery.

It was pouring rain for much of the weekend so the summer kickoff took place indoors, but the evening was a lot of fun. The Hinkle family were gracious hosts as always. This was a mostly locals crowd but they made sure we felt right at home – the older daughter who we usually chat with in the tasting room even asked how the Angels were doing. They remember their baseball and baseball fans here. The food was excellent. I now have several great ideas for sangria later in the summer, including one with the MVP reserve, apples and berries. More please! And the party favors were half cases of wine – the Grand Slam Cab/Syrah blend no less, ensuring that the party will continue at several Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels evenings at our house later this summer. We had a nice time hearing some of the local gossip and all about the Giants – central coast California is absolutely not Angels country. They’re disappointed about Buster Posey but not exactly calling for Scott Cousins’ head or any rule changes in Paso Robles. Bruce Bochy take note…and a lesson or four.

Jered Weaver Collects His 7th Win + I’m in a Paso Robles State of Mind

I am very careful in my work and take pride in not making many mistakes. But when I do make them, they tend to all occur at once. A mini slump, if you will. Today was one of those days. Mistake 1 begat Mistake 2 and it’s more public sister, Mistake 3. I owned up to them and put out the resulting fires. But it’s good that we’re driving to Paso Robles for the weekend as I typed this because, honestly, somtimes to get out of the head space that causes a cycle of mistakes to perpetuate like that, you just have to get out of town…

…Or come home again! The Angels broke up their own cycle of mistakes this evening with a much needed win over the Yankees, a win made all the more important by the fact that it was finally win #7 for Jered Weaver. So, was it a brilliant, awe-inspiring performance? Did the Angels, resplendent in their earliest years throwback jerseys complete with the original interlocking LA ball cap, strike fear into the hearts of the Yankees with their dominance at the plate? Um, no. Not really.

It was a lot of the same actually. The team hit well, especially Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos, but continued to struggle with runners in scoring position. The fielding was tight but neither Weaver nor the Yankee’s Ivan Nova had a great start, though Weaver settled into his groove by the third inning, giving the team five additional strong innings and eight strikeouts. So, not an amazing performance, but the Angels battled through, held the Yankees to two runs for five innings and stubborned out a victory!

Besides, a W is a W and I could not have been more thrilled by the victory – for the team, for Weaver and for Angels fans. In fact, we were just outside of Santa Barbara when the Angels won the game and when my husband read me the last pitch – using the pitch by pitch on Gameday, because our ability to pick up the broadcast cacked it in Ventura – I let out such a loud whoop that we both started cracking jokes about the perils of loud cheering in the friendly confines of a Pontiac G6. So what do you say we do it again tomorrow? Sadly, Dan Haren will miss the first scheduled start of his career but we have Ervin Santana on the mound and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Hmmm…time to start a cycle of winning? Yes, please.

On another note, this amused the heck out of me, so I figured I’d share. I believe I have mentioned before that the majority of my friends are not baseball people? The following statement from our weekly Wednesday gathering at the pub, illustrates this fact better than I ever could. The “lights out” Giants/Cardinals game was on the TV over the bar, Brian Wilson strides out to the mound in all of his Brian Wilson-y glory and my friend asks with a tone of shocked disdain, “Who the hell is that and why is he wearing a fake beard?” A quick glance around the table shows that she was not alone in her question.

Really? Just in case we needed another definition: Baseball people may or may not fear the beard, but they are at least aware of it.

Royally Flushed…and Yet, Still Not My Grandfather’s Angels

What a difference a few days makes. Shutout by the Royals on Wednesday and shutout for seven of nine innings on Tuesday. Blast and damn. < broken record > The Angels hit in both games, just not with runners in scoring position. </ broken record > Heck, we even managed to load up the bases twice today, once with no outs, and have no runs to show for it. No, Scott Downs should not have given up the homerun today and Joel Pineiro should not have given up five in the third yesterday. But the offense needs to stop putting our starters and relievers in a position where they have three or less, often less, runs to work with, especially when we can and have done much better.   

Six runs on Sunday, ten on Monday, three on Tuesday and none today. I really don’t want to have to come up with a “Tanana and Ryan, then two days of cryin’” like slogan for the 2011 offense, thank you very much, but that’s certainly the way things looked in May. Okay, now </ broken record >. 

*     *     *     *     *

Tanana and Ryan, then two days of cryin’. This, of course, was the Angels own special version of the more famous “Spahn, then Sain, then pray for rain.” from back in the days when Frank Tanana and Nolan Ryan lead the Angels four-man starting rotation. I can’t remember if I learned that one from life-long Angels fan grandfather or from any number of trivia and history books I devoured as a young lass. Either way, the Angels pre-game shows and Angels weekly continue to air snippets from the 50th Anniversary celebration documentary and are currently in the middle of the Tanana/Ryan era and I can’t help but think of my grandfather. 

I’ve written of my grandfather’s Angels fandom on this blog before and of my own upbringing rooting for the Dodgers – and don’t think there wasn’t a small, or perhaps not so small, amount of youthful rebellion in my father choosing to root for the Dodgers over his father’s Angels…well, youthful rebellion and maybe Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had a little bit to do with it too. Grandpa passed away a few years after the Dodgers won the Series in 1988, so he never saw my conversion to Angels fandom, though I bet he’d have been tickled by it. 

If I close my eyes I can still hear the particular sound of the radio playing the baseball game on the floor next to Grandpa’s armchair in the dining room, punctuated with short bursts of an announcer’s voice growing excited over a play; an announcer’s voice that was both less melodic and more enthusiastic than that of Vin Scully, with whom I was more familiar. And I can hear the occasional sounds of my grandfather’s hand slapping the arm of his chair softly in approval as he kept one ear on the game throughout our visits. 

It’s funny what you remember and funnier still what you inherit from family. The hand slap of approval, for example? My father does the same thing. I remember distinctly from childhood, on the few Sundays my Dad took time to watch a game, being able to tell you from pretty much any room in the house if the Dodgers, or USC or anyone playing Notre Dame was doing well by the deep, happy sounding thump of his hand against the coffee table or the arm of his chair. One. Two. Three. And then continuing louder and more insistent, like fans slapping the backs of seats at a game, if the action on the TV screen continued, eventually resulting in a whoop of joy and a resonant “All right!” 

My father’s approval slap is significantly louder than Grandpa’s was. I think this has less to do with any difference in enthusiasm than it does with an understanding that slapping the chair arm too loudly in my grandparents’ house probably would have violated my grandmother’s sense of decorum with company over, even family company, and resulted in the radio’s banishment to the workshop in the garage. Much to my everlasting amusement, during a particularly good Angels game last season – hush you, there were a few – I paused mid cheer because I was suddenly overcome with these memories of Grandpa, Dad  and baseball and couldn’t think why…until I noticed my own right hand, poised to continue slapping the coffee table with enthusiasm. I don’t know when I started doing that. It was completely unconscious on my part. But it makes me smile to think that I have my mother’s laugh and my father’s – and his father’s – cheer. 

And all of this remembering and recounting helps remind me that these 2011 Angels, frustrating though a few things have been this season, are not my grandfather’s Angels in the best possible way. It would have surprised and thrilled him to no end to root for a team that could smooth over some rough edges and contend, let alone one with such talent – five quality starters, a bullpen that can get the job done, gold glove winners in the outfield, and a bumper crop of talented rookies. Okay, he would have seen flickers of recognition in the lack of power displayed by the lineup thus far and the occasional wilder exploits of the bullpen, but only flickers. It’s June and these Angels are only two games out of first. 

Perspective achieved. Rest up today guys and enjoy some home cooking, or whatever gets you ready to hit and play a great game. The Yankees are coming to town and we’ve got Weaver on the mound on Friday and Howie Kendrick returning to the lineup. Time to go win some ballgames!

*     *     *     *     * 

My fingers are crossed for Dan Haren! More blah Angels luck this week – he experienced a “tweak in his back” during Wednesday’s bullpen session significant enough to fall down. He will be evaluated tomorrow in order to determine if he will make his scheduled start on Saturday. If he has to sit the start out, this will be the first scheduled start Haren has ever missed…ever, as in entire career. He’s old school like that, one of the reasons I like him and love having him on the team so much. I want Haren to maintain his streak because I want this to be nothing and him to remain in top condition. But if this isn’t nothing, please, please, sit out a start or two to prevent worse issues down the line.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers

%d bloggers like this: