Hel-lo gor-geous bats! Where have you been all my season? Well, looking at the stats for the last few games, they’ve been in AA Arkansas with Mike Trout. Check this out:
The Angels have played ten games since Mike Trout was recalled from the minors and in that time they are 5 and 0 in games where Trout has started and 2 and 3 in games where Trout did not play or entered the game as a pinch hitter in the 8th inning. And one of those losses? That would be Friday night against Texas. Upon entering the game in the 8th inning, Trout continued a rally begun by Howie Kendrick. His hit moved Howie into position to score on Mark Trumbo’s line drive single and set the stage for Russell Branyan’s three run homer. Imagine what could have been if Trout had started the game?
No, I’m not saying Mike Trout is the chosen one, a one man offense here to single handedly save the Angels. But I do think he is proving himself to be the missing spark this team needs. It’s not that the Angels don’t have any bats, it’s that we don’t have enough bats and that there are far too many dead spots, all but guaranteed outs, dotted through the lineup in between them. How many times have we watched a mini rally start only to die without a single man scoring? Or bases loaded with one out turning into one measly run followed by someone grounding into a double play? This happens to every team, but it happens to the Angels so often that we’ve grown to expect it every inning this season. How excited do we Angels fans get when the team scores just four runs? ‘Nuff said.
But what if we had just one more clutch bat in between our existing bats, someone to keep the offensive outburst going once Macier or Bourjos or Howie starts it? Someone to knock Torii Hunter in when he gets on base? Heck, just one more guy not grounding into an inning ending double play? Well, we’d have our sweep of the Orioles, or last night, or our win against Texas on Saturday, or what Friday night against Texas very easily could have been if we’d had just one more clutch bat in the game a few innings earlier.
Yes, Mike Trout is young, not even a month past 20. But he doesn’t seem overwhelmed in the slightest. In addition to his bat makes good decisions in the outfield, has a fantastic glove, runs great routes for the ball and, with his speed, is a perfect complement to Peter Bourjos in the outfield and a terror on the base paths. And the frightening part is, he’s still growing into his skill set and showing a lot of improvement, even just since his last trip up to the majors. His arm looks a little stronger and then there’s that bat! Trout returned to the majors with a .163 batting average – hey, he only played in a handful of games on either side of the All-Star Break and, like a lot of rookies, it took him a few at bats first to connect and then to stop hitting it right at people. After five additional full games in the majors and two single at-bat pinch hit appearances, Trout has dramatically increased his batting average to .246. Between that and two homeruns and five RBIs last night, making Trout the youngest Angel to have a two-homerun game, I think it’s safe to say he is no longer overly impressed by Major League pitching. What do you think?
So, this post was originally going to be a plea to Mike Scioscia to put Mike Trout back in the lineup tonight. Because, of course, he reads this blog and takes my opinions into careful consideration before making lineup decisions, why do you ask? But, much to my delight, they just posted the lineup and Trout is already there!!! And suddenly I am even more excited for this game. Go Angels!!
So, I was wondering instead…Sosh, pretty please, with zesty homemade marinara sauce and good imported parmesan on top, can we keep him in the lineup now??? He’ll be the offense’s new best fri-end. Thanks, ever so!
- An Angels Fan on the Edge of Her Seat
A good friend wanted to celebrate her birthday in style this weekend, so she got the lot of us passes to the Magic Castle on Saturday. I know what you’re thinking – cheesy fortune tellers and kid’s birthday party tricks. I thought as much myself before I went the first time, but the reality is quite different. Housed in a gorgeous pre-World War I era mansion tucked into the Hollywood Hills, the Magic Castle is the headquarters for the Academy of Magical Arts and a truly decadent private club. A luxurious setting, an elegant meal, cocktail servers who never let your glass go empty if you let them, and the magicians, wow! My favorite part of all of it is the close-up rooms – card tricks, coin tricks, ring magic, rope tricks and the like all performed to perfection mere feet away. The magician might as well be sitting on the other side of the dining room table from you if you are lucky enough to sit in the front row.
There aren’t very many new tricks in the world really, just infinitely innovative riffs on classic tricks. But the variations and personal stamps each magician puts on these tricks are where I think the true artistry lies. Take the 11 $1 bill trick, as it was first described to me. I have seen it performed many ways by many different names, on Saturday for example, it was performed by a magician from my home town as the 4 card trick. But I have never seen it performed so well as the 11 $1 bill trick so I will use that variation as my example. The magician performing this trick always invites a member of the audience to assist him. When I saw the trick, the assistant was Mike, a good friend of mine, and the rest of us were sitting in the front row, close enough to reach out a touch the dollars ourselves.
The Magician took a simple wallet out of his pocket and counted out the contents, 11 $1 bills, into Mike’s skeptical hand and invited him to look over each bill carefully. He then invited Mike to investigate the wallet to prove that is was empty and Mike did so thoroughly. The magician set the empty wallet on the table in plain view and asked Mike to count the stack of bills back to the magician. 11 $1 bills. Then the magician counted them back into Mike’s hand – 11 $1 bills – and asked Mike to count the stack back into his hand again. Only now, suddenly, Mike could only count 10 $1 bills. Surely Mike was mistaken, the Magician said and counted the stack back into Mike’s hand. 11 $1 bills. Try it again, he asked. So Mike counted the stack back into the Magician’s hand. 9 $1 bills. No, the Magician said there are 11 and counted them back into Mike’s hand. 11 $1 bills. Mike counted them back to the magician again. 8 $1 bills.
Ah, said the magician. I know what happened. And he picked the wallet up off the table, opened it up and removed 3 $1 bills! This trick then continued for some time with several variations. The 11 $1 bills grew in number to 15 and shrank and low as 6 until eventually Mike was asked to investigate the offending wallet again, which he did even more thoroughly, and put the empty wallet into his own pocket himself. In the end, Mike could only count 7 $1 dollars back to the magician again and the remaining three were, you guessed it, inside the wallet he had tucked into his own pocket. I am difficult to impress. I look for the misdirection, glance at places the magician is de-emphasizing, and try to see that which I am not supposed to see. Every now and then I see a bent card, the hidden coin or a few of the torn pieces of whatever disappearing, but not this time. I have the vaguest of ideas what the magician might have done, but damned if I could catch him at it. Magic? Of course not. Not in the Harry Potter/Walt Disney/Gandalf the Grey sense, at least. But definitely a gifted artist giving a brilliant demonstration of his craft, and what could be more magical than that?
Anyway, does the 11 $1 bill trick remind you of anything? Yes, exactly. The Angels standings in the AL West. Twenty days ago, the Angels only had to count a mere 1.5 games out of first back to the Rangers. But then they went to New York and Toronto, and entertained a visit from the Rangers themselves, and when the Rangers counted games back to the Angels, the stack grew to 5 games, then 6 games, then 7. But just when the audience expected them to count back 8 games, Mark Trumbo hit that walk off homerun and showed the Rangers that 2 of those games had magically disappeared from the stack.
After pulling several bats and a rookie outfielder seemingly out of thin air, the Angels took on Baltimore and Chicago and were able to count a mere 2 games back to the Rangers again…Boston may have helped with that a little. And then the counting began in earnest in Texas. The Rangers dazzled the Angels by making baseballs disappear over fences and counted 3 games back into the Angels palm. Then the Angels discovered the secret of the disappearing baseball trick themselves, Ervin Santana turned three days rest and grit into a win and the team counted 2 games back to the Rangers. This feat caused me to respond with a trick of my own and magically pull a Droid out of my small, elegant little evening bag to check the score several times on Saturday. However, Jered Weaver was unable to match Santana’s impressive prestidigitation, the Angels fielding moved out of the magic shop and into the novelty store, and suddenly the Rangers counted 3 games in the stack again.
The Angels have 29 games left, 3 of them against Texas, and I can’t help but feel they have a few more tricks up their sleeves. Provided the bats continue to obligingly reappear or, better yet, no one makes them disappear in the first place, I predict that the number of games in this particular stack is going to go up and down several more times before someone is eventually able to pull a division title out of the wallet on the table. The feat is hardly impossible, but if the Angels are able to cinch the division win, it will be one stylish trick indeed – even more enjoyable than the 11 $1 bill trick and even more impressive than my own little trick of walking and standing around the Magic Castle for seven hours in three inch heels with nary a blister to show for it.
Weaver Pitches 7 Shutout Innings to lead the Angels to their 6th Victory While the Ink Dries on His Brand, Spanking New Contract
We were not going to go to a game this week. Yes, we had originally planned on going to Tuesday night’s game, but then the unexpected trip to Yosemite came up and it just seemed like too many things…Until Jered Weaver’s press conference. I think Weaver got a great deal from the Angels. But at the same time, I am as touched as everyone else that he didn’t wait to shop around as a free agent, potentially leaving significant dollars on the table to stay with the organization he grew up with.
Listening to the press conference on the radio at lunch on Tuesday and hearing Weaver say, with warmth and tears in his voice, ‘I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else but here,’ ‘How much more money do you really need?’ and ‘Watching all of the Angels alumni return to throw out first pitches for the 50th, I want to be part of that brotherhood.’ I was thrilled. I was proud. I was moved. Heck, I even shed a few tears myself. There’s just something about tough guys being moved to tears that causes a few of my own to roll down my face in sympathy. And suddenly, I really wanted to go the game on Wednesday and be part of the crowd cheering our admiration and thank yous when Weaver took the mound for his next start. I can’t imagine sharing that with my non baseball fan friends. It’s not like I know the guy, or much of anything about him outside of baseball. So I know they wouldn’t understand needing to go to the game at that point in the slightest. But at the same time, I’m certain you all get it.
Reason #3,987,542 (give or take, it’s a really long list!) my husband is the best ever? When I texted that I after listening to the press conference I wanted to go Wednesday’s game after all. Could we go if I could find cheap tickets? He responded almost instantly with a ‘Yes, please.’ He was listening to the press conference too. So, many, many thanks to the Angels fans who decided to part with club level seats for $10 each. Were it not for the generosity and/or last minute changes in plans of fans such as yourself, I would sit at home a lot more often than I do.
So, long story somewhat truncated, we got to see the Angels mini-sweep the White Sox (I just can’t think of a two game series as a full series, sorry!), winning their sixth game in a row. The whole evening was perfect. We even got to the game in time to check out some of the warm ups which with our jobs and So Cal traffic, never happens:
The Angels bats went on a terror and guys found ways to get and base and score in a welcome trend I hope to see continue into the fall:
We saw seven Jered Weaver shutout innings followed by shutout innings from Bobby Cassevash and Fernando Rodney – note, he isn’t coming in when it counts. Smart. Very smart:
And I got to see one iteration of my dream Peter Bourjos/Mike Trout outfield live and in person for an entire inning once Trout pinch hit for Vernon Wells in the 8th. Trout promptly knocked the ball into left field for his first big league pinch hit. So many firsts! *sniffles* Our baby’s growing up so fast! ;):
From our vantage, we even caught random goofiness in the bullpens…or, invoking the Roger Rabbit Only When it’s Funny Clause, chose to infer random goofiness:
And then, there was this. I hate the kiss cam. In fact, I think it’s so stupid and pointless that until you all set me straight, I assumed it was a uniquely So Cal thing. We So Cal folk seem to need our beach balls and other lame distractions at perfectly good baseball games *rolls eyes* so it made a disturbing sort of sense. However, this season cheeky humor has arrived at the Big A. Finally, the sound guys have caught up with the times and play sarcastic music and sound effects when the visiting team strikes out, has a meeting on the mound…you know, like other teams do. In keeping with this sense of fun, the camera folks have continued their goofiness with the Kiss Cam’s last victims each evening from where they left off with the Indians Bullpen back in April. The visitor’s bullpen is a common target, as is the visitor’s dugout – an injured Evan Longoria blowing kisses at the camera from his perch on the rail was a high point. But announcers, programmers and sound crew from visiting and home team alike aren’t guaranteed a pass either. By now, this is a sufficiently well known prank that the victims usually play along, increasing the humor value considerably. The White Sox bullpen was no exception:
And, of course, all’s well that ends well. Light that baby up! Hey, Shakespeare wrote it…except, you know, for that Angels-centric part there…and now you can read it on the Internets, so it absolutely has to be true:
Now, let’s do it again, but in Texas shall we? I am so excited for this series! Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver are both even pitching on short rest to help get it done. Clearly the Angels are feeling extra competitive and I love it!
Jered Weaver and the Angels reach a 5-year, $85 million deal
Major sports news in 2011 breaks more like an avalanche than like the smooth flowing waves of the pre-social media days. It starts with a small flurry of tweets and rumors that quickly progress into larger and more detailed blasts from other forums, Facebook, independent blogs, insider blogs, press blogs and then the full crescendo of completely confirmed new articles comes crashing down. And all of this occurs 24 hours or more before the official press conference, which these days serves more as an opportunity to get feelings and impressions about that which everyone already knows, takes place.
When this particular avalanche began, I was on my way back down the highways from Yosemite, ecstatic about the Angels perfectly timed sweep of the Orioles, contemplating everything I needed to do to get ready for Monday morning and it just didn’t register. But as the avalanche grew Sunday night? Well, have you ever seen a grown woman restraining herself with effort from turning cartwheels in the living room? Yeah, it was like that. If I thought I was excited about Angels news earlier in the day, well that was nothing compared to how I felt by evening time.
So, Jered Weaver is now an Angel until 2016, with a full no-trade clause to boot. *Cue happy dances and shouts of joy* I’m not going to say I never worried about him leaving the Angels, because as my blog will attest, that isn’t true. But the full no-trade clause confirms my long held suspicion, as my blog will also attest, that Weaver wants to stay in Anaheim as much as the fans and the organization want him to. Everything I’ve ever read about Weaver says he’s a Los Angeles/Orange County boy through and through. He grew up here. He went to college here. He still lives near his folks, who come to many of his games. I’ve gotten the impression from interview snippets that he’s known his fiancé and many of his best friends since high school or longer. He has been an Angel since day one, and although signing the initial contract with him after the draft took some doing, he never once indicated he wanted to look at playing anywhere else. This has always charmed me about him. I know I feel the same way about continuing to live in the same county I grew up in, near family and old friends. A lot of us do. It’s alI very human and relatable…and I hoped that a) I was reading between the lines correctly and b) this meant that if the front office didn’t muck things up, Weaver would work with them to stay in an Angels uniform.
I had my concerns. The Angels are known for being pennywise and pound foolish about contracts. Weaver’s agent Scott Boras is well known to prefer his clients to go through lucrative free agency bidding wars and players often like to test the free agency waters themselves to get an idea of what’s out there. But in the end, the hometown kid, who just happens to be one of the best pitchers currently in the game, stays with the hometown team that really appreciates and needs his killer stuff and all is right with my baseball world! I know many Angels fans were miffed when the organization didn’t make any trades in July. (Not me, because I didn’t see anyone out there who would make enough of a difference to the Angels to justify what we would probably have had to give up, but that was the subject of another blog post…) Now that we know what the front office had in mind instead, I hope this news makes up for any lingering disappointments on that front.
Jerome Williams Notches a W
I love Jerome Williams’s story of perseverance and dedication, making it back to Major League Baseball, but I was uncertain about starting him Sunday. It’s not like we have a lot of other options. But I thought his relief outing against Texas was inconclusive. No runs or walks, but two hits and he was behind in a few counts in the one inning he pitched. Clearly he deserved extra slack for his first inning back on the mound in the Majors but still, to me it was inconclusive. Well darned if he didn’t pitch a heck of game on Sunday! No walks, six strikeouts and only one earned run and six hits in seven innings to complete the Angels sweep of the O’s. That would have kept the Angels in the game even if the offense hadn’t shown up. Welcome to the rotation Mr. Williams! And if you keep pitching like this, I hope you stay a good long while!
As ecstatic as I was about the Weaver news and the Angels victory and the fact that the Angels bridged another game along the gap to first place (Thank you White Sox! I promise I loved you all the way up until sunset today. ), I was just too tired from having fun to post about it all until today. My husband’s family has a cabin in Yosemite, literally inside the national park on private land surrounded by federal land. Trust me, I know how lucky I am. Not only are my in laws absolutely lovely people, they have all of these wonderful toys. They are rebuilding the cabin this summer from the original 1920’s construction (you know, giving it a foundation and other modern frills, he he) so the family gathered en semi masse in the park this weekend to make a few decisions about the construction and play in Yosemite Valley.
It was a fantastic weekend! We biked through Yosemite Valley and Wawona, hiked a few of the more popular trails (I’ve been on most of them at one point or another, but we were there with our young niece and nephew, so it was a minimal hiking, trail highlights kind of weekend. They’re good kids and did really, really well!) and goofed around together taking in the sheer breathtaking beauty of it all. One of the many things I have enjoyed about this blogging community is all of the fun details I have learned about other teams and also about life in other parts of the country. Yosemite definitely offers a non-traditional view of California, so I thought I would share a few photos. I posted about the trip in more detail here, and with more photos, if anyone is interested.
As I said in my last post, I think they can do it, but the Angels have a tall order ahead of them if they would like to have an October. However, with three wins in a row since then, two of which succeeded in eating up a little needed distance in the standings, the Angels are tackling that tall order head on!
…And I have been desperately trying to follow their progress each evening after the family goes to bed early on a sketchy WI-fi connection from the cabin where we are staying for the weekend in Yosemite National Park. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stunning natural beauty. Freedom from electronic leashes. Relaxation in the great outdoors far away from the encumbrances of modern technology. Trust me, during the day I am all about that. But come 8:30 p.m. or so, I want to know the score and I want to follow the last few innings f at all possible.
Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo are on absolute hitting terrors. Torii Hunter’s hit streak continues. Bats, gloves and arms are growing steadily more clutch. We have Hank Conger and, best of all, Mike Trout back up from the minors, which means I am seeing various incarnations of my dream, Bourjos in Center, Trout in one of the corners, 2012 outfield right now in 2011…or, at least I will be seeing it Tuesday once I’m back in town. I couldn’t be happier!!
Okay, that isn’t entirely true. I could be happier if a few of our pitching woes were solved, namely the number 4 and 5 starting rotation spots and some unnecessarily exciting fellows in the bullpen – why did we go to Fernando Rodney again? Why? I don’t know what to make of Pineiro’s outing, exactly. Nine hits and four runs in six innings but he didn’t walk anyone and the runs were clustered in one bad inning plus a solo homerun. Is he a little better and likely to get better still? Were the Angels just damn lucky to score enough runs this time and might not be so next time? It’s tough to tell not having actually seen it. And then we have Jerome Williams making his first major league pitching start since 2007 for us on Sunday. I wish him all the best, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns. Trust me when I say I really don’t want to have to start referring to this rotation as Santana, Weaver and Haren, then two days of swearin’. I think that’s a little too nostalgic, even for the 50th anniversary.
* * * * *
More often than not, the rules determining which pitchers are credited with wins, losses, no decisions, saves, holds, blown saves and the like work well enough. But occasionally they can lead to some serious injustices. Take Saturday’s game against the Orioles for example, two outs, bases loaded, Rodney is inexplicably called to the mound and proceeds to do what Rodney does best – okay, second best, he didn’t walk anyone – he gives up a single after two pitches and a run scores, two with Torii’s throwing error. But the Angels rallied in the bottom of the inning, winning in walk off fashion. So, Pineiro gets a no decision, Jordan Walden, who did allow the game to become tied in the first place but then came back for a spotless second inning gets a blown save and Rodney gets the win? Does that seem fair to you?
I think we need a new stat, indicating which relief outings are truly quality and which are…shall we say…unnecessarily exciting. Why not? We have a stat for everything else, right? Thinking of the most egregious crimes a reliever can commit, I propose something to the effect of Win/Save – (Walks + Earned Runs + Extra Base Hits)/# of batters seen. Basically, this would create fractional wins and saves for relievers. A quality win or save would be a 1 or only slightly lower, a .9 for example. But a barely deserved win might be a .25 or even a -.25. We could call this new stat something as mundane as a Weighted Relief Record, but what fun would that be? I propose instead that we call this new stat the Specific Criteria Adjusted Relief Index, or SCARI, as in Rodney may have gotten the win, but his SCARI was, well, pretty darned scary…
…because, of course, I’m completely joking around here…okay, make that mostly.
The 2011 Angels can’t score to save their lives and they can’t hit when it counts. Veteran bats have only come alive in alternating streaks all season – much like Torii Hunter’s slumbering bat waking with a vengeance into his current 15-game hitting streak – and the rookies and the gap hitters are pretty much carrying the line-up. The problem with that is that we can get guys on base, but we can’t bring them home, facts I haven’t shied away from mentioning all season.
And yet, the Angels have been in the thick of the division race, winning series and beating top teams all season long pretty much on the strength of their pitching and fielding alone. Two weeks ago, we were a mere game out of first place! So what happens when the pitching inevitably falters for a few games? Last week happens, with the disastrous road trip to Toronto and the Bronx. And if the fielding gets lax too? Well, then you have what could have been a season making series against the Texas Rangers turn into what we’ve seen on the field instead the last few days – something that could very well be season breaking if the Angels don’t pull it together and play their hearts out from tonight on through the rest of the season.
Another end result is that I, consummate baseball optimist, constant cheerleader and the self-proclaimed Pollyanna of Angels baseball actually started to despair for a few minutes Tuesday night. Tuesday was my husband’s birthday and his boss gave him the company seats, the OMG! company seats, on the field, in the first section on the dangerous side of the home plate screens, 10 rows back from the action. Awesome boss, yes? But sitting there, seemingly inches from the field, watching Erick Aybar lazily glance at the second playable line drive in as many innings shoot uncontested into the outfield for extra bases, in a game where our young starter was clearly struggling and needed all the backup he could get, I thought, “Well, that’s it then. If the Angels have just given up, the season is over.”
In fact, I think I waited this long to post our photos from the game, indeed anything about the Rangers series, in the hopes that Wednesday would give me something more cheerful to talk about. No dice. At least the lollygagging fielding was over by Wednesday, but not the gaffs. Balls were being thrown all kinds of places that weren’t anywhere near a glove. Erick Aybar decided to make an effort again for us Wednesday, but alternated between not being able to keep balls in his glove and not being able to get them out in time to actually throw them – which given the throwing situation might, in hindsight, have been a blessing in disguise, I don’t know – all night. Santana pitched a great game, but with the usual insufficient run support, and now with insufficient defense, it’s no surprise we lost.
So, are we done? The commentators all seem to think so. This was an important series, no doubt about it. We could be. If we can pull tonight off, we’re still six games out of first place in mid-August and that’s a tall order. But I did say my moment of despair was brief and, like it’s underlying message, I’m not giving up unless the Angels have given up…and even then I probably won’t give up unless winning becomes a mathematical impossibility, not a mere improbability, an impossibility. I’m stubborn like that. Monday and Tuesday notwithstanding, I don’t think the Angels have given up. Wednesday they still played badly but there were improvements – our pitching was back on track and the defense was at least hustling. And, here’s the thing. We were only one game out of first two weeks ago with only a handful of head to head games against the Rangers under our belt. We have seven more coming up including tonight. So, come on Angels, this division just got a whole lot tougher, but it’s still winnable.
So, tonight and going forward through August and September, we need to see a lot less of this – big bats taking knocking our pitching for extra bases -:
And a lot more of this, namely Angels in scoring position who then actually score and Angels on the base paths who just earned RBIs. And, I know I’m being extra, extra demanding here, but how about in several of the innings leading up to the 9th inning too?:
We need to start hitting pitchers who are hittable, and not right into double plays either. Derek Holland pitched a good game, but he was hittable:
No more injuries please!!! Everyone stay healthy:
It’s unfair to but so much pressure on our starting pitching, but that’s just the way things are this season, especially with the #4 spot in the rotation in such a state of flux, the rest of the rotation needs to be lights out as often as possible. With Garrett Richards unfortunately timed injury, they’re reinstating Joel Pineiro as a starter…oooooh boy. I just don’t know about that one. Prove me wrong, okay Joel? And the bullpen needs to be equally spot on. So why did we send this guy back to AAA?:
And why do we keep putting this guy in, in crucial situations? Tuesday was fine. Fernando Rodney pitches best when we’re already behind and don’t want to fall further behind, but I still don’t like seeing him take the mound:
And the fielding needs to be error free and full of hustle:
Do you ever have one of those days where odd things seem to parallel your mood or activities? You think of a song and change the station on the radio only to find that song? Or a coworker randomly starts the same conversation you just had that morning with your mom? Does this ever seem to happen with the baseball team you follow? Saturday, was my husband’s birthday “observed” – as opposed to Tuesday, his actual birthday, when we have tickets for the company seats at the Big A, whoo hoo! We hosted a pizza party/game night in his honor, so I knew that, between the prep, the party and the clean-up, I wasn’t going be able to pay as much attention to the Angels play as I would like to. Little did I know the Angels themselves wouldn’t be paying much attention to their play this weekend. Yikes!
The baseball/life parallel was a beautiful thing on Friday night. We cleaned the house and I baked a dark chocolate cake. Making this cake is as much about technique as it is about the recipe. If you cream the butter and sugar long enough and take a sufficiently light, careful hand with the folding, you have an almost ethereally light, fluffy cake. Fold too quickly or too long, or outright mix the batter, and you develop the glutens to the point where you basically have bread. A nice calm no doubter of a game was just what the doctor ordered.
Melt the chocolate, blend, combine. Vernon Wells hits a homerun. Dry ingredients, buttermilk, whipped egg whites, gently fold. Ervin Santana going strong. Back until the cake is springy to the touch. Double play to finish the game. Howie to Aybar to Tumbo. Light that baby up. And now let’s finish mopping the floor. Excellent. Great Friday! And can I just say that between their humorous sign campaign response to the sign stealing accusations and their classy welcome for Vernon Wells, I love Blue Jays fans!
Saturday, however, the whole baseball/life parallel thing started to suck. Big time. Yes, I needed to chop and prep all of the pizza toppings. Yes, I needed to make the double vanilla, cream cheese icing for the cake and that involves whipping thick ingredients. Yes, Seth had to work so I was on my own and frustrations from the game lead me to chop and whip with greater…hmmm…shall we say efficiency. But come on Angels, I didn’t need that kind of help! I’m strong lady. I can chop onions, mushrooms, garlic and the like in a good mood, would have preferred to in fact.
I was concerned about this particular Jered Weaver start heading into the game anyway. He doesn’t pitch as well when circumstances muck up the rotation. Just like in May, when illness delayed his start, Weaver seemed to come back throwing too hard and with less control after his extra rest. And for a guy who lives by pinpoint precision against a hot hitting Blue Jays team on yet another day where the Angels own bats stood still? My recipes were on the right track. This recipe, however, was one for disaster. And Pineiro’s two innings on top of it all? Ouch. Clearly he’s not working anything out in the bullpen. Is he injured? Is it psychological? Would Dave Duncan consent to maybe call and whisper to him over the phone? I got nothin’. But then I had the birthday party and a house full of people, wine to pour, pizzas on the grill and a really great time, all perfect distractions from any thoughts of Angels.
So, Sunday this would have to end right? We capped off a thoroughly decadent late night with a thoroughly decadent morning – sleeping in until first pitch and then lounging on the sofa to watch a good match up with a breakfast of leftover prosciutto pizza with blue cheese, apples and caramelized onions. And the beginning was great. Torii Hunter’s homerun. Dan Haren was dealing. Peter Bourjos smokin’ down the base paths. But it was not to be. After the game I could see one more parallel. I had a really happy Saturday night, and I was feeling it Sunday morning to a certain extent, hence the lounging. But some of the Angels and Mike Scioscia, love him though I do, must have had an even happier Saturday night. How else do you explain Bobby and Trumbo’s base running in the 9th? Or Scioscia’s decision to go to Fernando Rodney in the 10th?
The parallels, however, have to end now. See, Seth and I are going to be enjoying pizza, cake and other party leftovers easily until Thursday, but the Angels better not be keeping too many leftovers from their weekend. Torii’s hitting streak. Bobby’s reemerging bat. The fielding perhaps. The fact that Jered Weaver is such a stud, that even after giving up eight runs in less than five innings on Saturday, he still has the lowest E.R.A. and the third lowest WHIP in the majors. These are good leftovers to keep. But the lack of clutch, the inconsistent bats and the scary bullpen moments? Leave them on the road. The Rangers are coming to town for a four game series and with this disastrous road trip the Angels are four games behind them. This isn’t the last stand of the season right here, right now but it sure is time to get serious about winning again.
I was eight years old when I caught gymnastics fever. It was the summer of 1984. Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. Mary Lou Retton was America’s sweetheart. And NBC must have re-aired the Nadia movie 10 times that summer. My sister and I begged and pleaded so, of course, my parents let us start lessons. The first gym wasn’t what we expected. They never let us do any real tricks, we couldn’t use the whole beam, only the part over the giant fluffy mat and we vaulted onto a large upholstered box. However they had large pit full of foam squares, just like in the Nadia movie, and a lot of the kids taking classes there were “Industry,” including the younger siblings of a then rising sitcoms and afterschool specials star with a child-of-hippies first name and a state capitol for a last name, so you’d better bet classes were expensive.
Eventually we switched to youth classes at the local community college. No Nadia pit “full of bouncy things” but plenty of encouragement to try difficult tricks at a reasonable price. And the gym in which the classes were held announced it’s more serious work ethic when you walked in the door with a large poster of a young gymnast in the middle of a giant swing on the uneven bars with her toes just brushing the floor, a major points deduction, and the saying I used for my headline: Mistakes Can Be Costly. Let’s Try to Be Accurate in Our Work.
Watching the Angels play this season, this poster comes to mind fairly often. Mind you, the team is doing well in many ways and they’re only two games out of first, even with the last two losses. But when the Angels do lose, all too often, they’ve really beat themselves with some sort of costly mistake. Walking batters, sometimes several in a row. Errors on what would have been the third out. Meatball pitches. Base running gaffes. Swinging for the fences to the point of detriment when a nice hard knock into the gap would suffice. Mental vacations at inopportune fielding moments…I could go on, but you get the general idea.
All teams have these moments, make these mistakes. But, for whatever reason, timing is not on the Angels side this season and when mistakes are made, they quickly prove costly with even greater frequency than normal. And just what can a team do to prevent this situation? Nothing, other than work harder to keep the mistakes in check. This is why I love this particular poster so much that it has stayed with me all these years. It doesn’t yell, or point fingers and it doesn’t suggest for a second that anyone can live an errorless existence. It just states a simple fact, mistakes can be costly, and suggests a valuable action plan. I’ve already seen improvements in the Angels play this season. If they can avoid more of the costly errors, mental and otherwise, in the next few weeks, I expect they will still be playing in October.
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So, were there any high points we can take away from the series in the Bronx? Yes, indeedy. Dan Haren for one. He pitched most of a great game (Bringing in Fernando Rodney against Jeter with two on and two out was a moronic decision. Coaching staff, see previous conversation about mental errors.) and was an excellent mentor to young Garrett Richards, chatting him up and keeping him positive after his first game. Richards himself. Yes, he had a terrible first inning and a terrible fourth inning. But the kid fresh up from AA making his major league debut in the Bronx also pitched two 1, 2, 3 innings and a third near 1, 2, 3, inning (except for that little solo homerun thing, D’oh), striking out Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in the process. Was it an awe inspiring debut? No, but I do think the kid shows promise. Tyler Chatwood’s debut was much the same and he was another bright spot in this series.
Angels bats were a frequent high point – Bobby Abreu, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter, Maicer Izturis, and Mark Trumbo all hit well throughout the series and others had hits. If only they could have hit consistently with runners in scoring position throughout the series, this could have been a different post. But at least the fought back this series. No, we scored our three runs in the first two innings and couldn’t possibly score any more until tomorrow. That was a positive…that and two homeruns off Mariano Rivera. Hey, we take our giggles were we can. ;) Angels fielding was also stellar this series and errorless, except for that one really, really big one…see previous conversation. *sigh*
I read, rather incessantly if the truth be told. For me it’s primarily a way of maintaining sanity. Something about disappearing into someone else’ story or an intriguing bit of non-fiction boosts my mood and settles my oft chaotically busy brain back into less stressed out functionality. Except, since late February I haven’t read much of anything. I have been too stressed out to settle down long enough for anything to grab my interest. It’s been miserable.
Finally, I picked up Dirk Hayhurst’s tale of minor league life, The Bullpen Gospels. I was so charmed by his turn of phrase and the compelling mix of humor and gut wrenching introspection, that I devoured it like a starving person in about two days, thus breaking up the longest “slump” of my “career.” One of the jacket quotes describes the book as Bull Durham meets Ball Four. On some levels this is true, especially on the humorous end of things. Never have kangaroo court proceedings been reported with such glee and the tales of out heckling rowdy opposing team fans are truly hilarious. But on the serious side of things, Hayhurst’s very much non-fiction back story and his personal stakes for failure are much darker and the introspection is more deliberate.
Ultimately, it’s the book’s juxtaposition of different elements that grabbed me. The silly with the serious. The drive for a major league baseball career with the motivation to have a lasting impact on the world. Beautifully related insider game tidbits peppered with references to Narnia, Charley and the Chocolate Factory, Conan the Barbarian and other wonderful oddities. I am a huge fan of that last part especially, as you might have guessed from the hodgepodge of strange side stuff I incorporate into this blog. Suffice to say, add The Bullpen Gospels to my list of recommended reads and many thanks to Dirk Hayhurst for helping me find my way back to my reading mechanics, as it were. Yes, of course he will read this, just like the Angels. Why do you ask?
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After busting out of my biblio-slump, I began tearing my way once again through the stack of books to be read, and one of the first things that caught my interest also happened to have a blog tie-in. Jim Butcher’s “Curses,” a new short story in the Dresden Files series included in Ellen Datlow’s recently released urban fantasy anthology Naked City. In this story we find Harry Dresden, detective, warden and the only wizard in the Chicago phone book taking on the Cubs’ Billy Goat Curse. And the end result? A very fun read. I had no idea Butcher was a baseball fan and if he isn’t, he fakes it nicely. This is a lighter Dresden tale, as Butcher often chooses to share in these anthologies, and would be relatively easy for someone who hasn’t read the series up until now to pick up. And if you had the misfortune of watching the Sci-Fi Channel’s terrible TV series adaptation of these books, don’t worry, the books are a completely different animal.
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Speaking of books and baseball, there was a really cute news feature in one of the early July episodes of Angels Weekly showing Angels rookies Hank Conger and Mark Trumbo and recent rookie Peter Bourjos car pooling to the interleague games at Dodgers Stadium. The adorable part was how nonchalant and professional they were trying to be about having reporters videoing their ride, when it was obvious they could barely contain their glee over the very Big Leagues novelty of the whole thing.
The three young Angels shot the breeze on a number of subjects, eventually settling on upcoming movie releases that had piqued their interest. Conger, it turned out, could not wait for the new Harry Potter movie because he loves Harry Potter and has read all of the books, thus earning several Kristen approval points, not that they’re worth anything. Bourjos and Trumbo laughed at this revelation and exchanged “Here Hank goes again” looks before each asked the other if he had ever finished an entire book willingly. No, neither one had, and both clearly thought Conger was the odd duck on this subject. But their teasing was affectionate and the whole conversation reminded me of a funny story from my high school days…
One day before class during my sophomore year, I had just put down a book I was reading to joke around with a group of baseball players, a fairly typical day. The guys were teasing me about my reading habits, mainly that I had them. I was the stat girl for the varsity team and had gone through grade school and then some with most of these JV players. We were friends. The teasing was affectionate and I was giving it right back. “Did your parents brainwash you or something?” asked a guy I had known literally since preschool. “Yes, and once you get past the machine that holds your eyes open really wide, the drugs are actually kind of fun…” I responded, or something to that effect.
Old friend kept it up and I finally asked him if there was any book he would willingly read. He pretended to gag and loudly protested, of course not. And all of the baseball players predictably laughed. Yeah, the boy didth protest too much, especially to someone who knew about his extensive Darth Vader collection. Fortunatley, timing was on my side and I held aloft the recently released book to reveal the shiny new cover – Timothy Zahn’s Dark Force Rising, the second book in the very first Star Wars series to tackle the question of just what happened after the conclusion of the original movie trilogy. Old friend emitted what can only be described as a squeal of delight and practically dove over a row of desks to get a closer look. “Oh my god! It’s out! I didn’t know it was out yet! Is it good? The last one was so good…” and so on. And he wasn’t the only one. Bwa ha ha.
The moral of this story? Careful Bourjos and Trumbo. Reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and there’s nothing wrong with that. But someday you may just find that one book that has you diving over a desk and looking silly, LOL.
Jered Weaver and the Aftermath of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Day
Since receiving official word of the expected six-game suspension following the “fireworks” at the Tigers game last Sunday, Jered Weaver has been adamant that he was not only appealing MLB’s decision, but would do so in person. As recently as Friday evening, there was word that Weaver’s agent Scott Boras would get involved with the appeal at Weaver’s side. Then, quite unexpectedly this evening, Weaver announced that he was dropping the appeal and had begun serving his suspension that day (Saturday).
I could not be happier about this decision. The chances of Weaver getting any sort of reduction or dismissal in the suspension were practically non-existent and appealing it only accomplished making Weaver’s availability for the next several series, many of them tough, a giant question mark. Certainly this was not helping the Angels any. Weaver’s decision to drop the appeal was motivated by a conversation with Mike Scioscia and a desire to do what’s best for the team. I applaud the decision, which will have him miss his next scheduled start against the Jays by only one day. This is especially helpful considering the next item.
The Unsinkable Joel Pineiro
It’s official. Joel Pineiro’s sinkerball just won’t sink. And what do we call an unsinkable sinkerball boys and girls? Well, the A’s, Orioles, Tigers and Twins called it a big fat meatball so let’s go with that, shall we? After Wednesday’s terrible start against the Twins, Pineiro’s fourth bad start in a row with no sign of improvement, the Angels moved him to the bullpen. It was time. He seems to do okay for the first inning or two, so maybe a few weeks of bullpen work will help him build confidence and find the right arm slot, or whatever, for an eventual return to the starting rotation? I don’t know, but I hope so. Pineiro was very classy about the news, fielding the press’ questions while admitting to his difficulties and accepting the bullpen move gracefully. It sounds stupid, but I was kind of proud of him. That couldn’t have been easy. I’m glad to see him out of the starting rotation for now but I wish him well and hope to see him regain his old form.
The Starting Rotation – We’ll Think About it Tomorrow, We Can Stand it Then?
So what in the heck are the Angels going to do with Pineiro’s spot in the rotation, especially this coming week against the Yankees? Ervin “No Hitter” Santana will take the mound tomorrow and from what I have heard, Dan Haren will dive in for Pineiro on Tuesday in New York…but what happens after that? With Weaver suspended until Saturday in Toronto? That’s a very good question. Supposedly we’re not in the market for arms and will solve the delimma in house with Hisanori Takehashi or Trevor Bell assuming the role for one start with a slight possibility of calling up one of the rookies, though none of them are quite ready it would seem. We’ll see how it goes, but if this is the case, then Tyler Chatwood definitely needs to buckle down and get outs more quickly than in his last few starts. I’ve noticed considerable improvement in his number of base on balls, so I’m sure he’s up for the task.
The Angels and the Curse of the AM830 Cooking Challenge
The Sports Lodge, the morning show on AM830, our local Angels and general sports radio station, began sponsoring an Iron Chef-lite style cooking challenge for charity last year. Various Angels players, coaches and their assistants – wives, SO’s, family members – compete to create an original dish with the winner earning a check for the charity of their choice. It sounds like an absolute blast, complete with a lot of silliness and banter, and even controversy – last year, pitching coach Mike Butcher won with the assistance of his professional chef sister-in-law, leading to the age old question, should there be an asterix next to his title? One of these years, I have to go. But in the meantime, I can’t help but notice the appearance of a curse hanging over the whole proceedings.
Last season, the player competitors were Joe Saunders, Kevin Jepson, Brandon Wood and Kevin Frandson. What else do these gents have in common? You guessed it. Not a one of them is still playing with the Angels, though Jepsen is at least with the AAA team. This season the cooking challenge winner was Pineiro. Very, very interesting. I actually don’t believe in curses or anything of the sort, but the coincidence seems so obvious to me and no one else is talking about it so I figured I would stir the pot a little…so to speak.
The Return of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels
This is the first Friday Seth and I have both been home, not prepping for a trip or some such and not still working on Friday night in weeks so, of course, the return of the Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) was in order. The game itself was a nail biting mix of the wonderful – Jered Weaver was very much on his game and our defense was stellar – and the frustrating – our offense was pretty much D.O.A. after Mariner’s rookie Trayvon Robinson, in his major league debut no less, made a stellar play robbing Torii Hunter of a two run homer. That kid is going to be something else! Thus the win went to closer Jordan Walden in walk-off fashion – way to go Torii and Vernon Wells! – instead of to the very deserving Weaver, but I’ll take that over a loss any day and I can’t think of anyone who would disagree with me on this front, including, I would imagine, Weaver. So, this week’s spread? Pan roasted salmon salad with dried cherries, feta and a homemade blackberry balsamic vinaigrette, accompanied by Bianchi’s Syranot, a lightly peppery pinot noir, syrah blend. Yum…my.