Results tagged ‘ Closers ’
Hey, better late than never, right?
So, when last the Angels played the Rangers I wrote that their one victory answered the question of “Can the Angels compete with the Rangers?’ in the affirmative but that the massive beating the team took for the rest of the series left us with a new question, ‘will the Angels compete with the Rangers?’ Well, I am happy to be able to write that this series left not a doubt in my mind on either count. The Angels can and will compete with the Rangers in 2012!
Okay, so the Angels didn’t look so hot on Sunday. I blame that on some serious celebrating the night before. Oh, I don’t have any factual evidence to support my theory but let’s just say that some of them sure seemed to be reacting to that sun in the time honored fashion of the moderately hung over. As for the Mariners series, well it’s been hit and miss but the Angels are still showing a lot of fight, an essential characteristic for future wins and, indeed, a hallmark of the Texas series. The Angels aren’t letting many opposing runs go unanswered these days and it is fun to watch.
Saturday night was an odd game. Neither starting pitcher was dealing, neither team went wild with the bats and neither team avoided a few serious fielding flubs. In the end, it came down to Angels base running and Angels fielding in the sense of the team being a well oiled turning two machine. Also, the Angels’ errors seemed to come at less crucial times…and no one decided to begin pouting to an umpire with no thought of completing a play, just sayin’. And can I just say that it was downright giddy making to see the first three guys in the lineup – Mike Trout (who is Superman by the way, check it out), Alberto Callaspo and Albert Pujols – hitting the ball, getting on base, causing chaos on the basepaths and generally doing exactly what the first three guys in any lineup are supposed to do. Was it a pretty win? No, not by any means. But it was a win and honestly it was darned fun game to watch.
As for my photos, I’m getting a little tired of the same old, same old guys taking a monster swing, guys diving back to the bag and guys making a catch photos. So to switch it up a bit, for this game I am only using photos that made me smile or even laugh. Enjoy!
So apparently the Angels were much more in focus than I thought, and halleluiah for that! Sometimes it’s okay to be wrong, other times it’s downright awesome. Hot pitching. Clutch bats. An already improving bullpen that jumped to pretty darned good with two lights out closer options. Homeruns – yes, and from that guy too! I think it’s safe to say that the Machine is coming back online nicely – see, patience is a virtue. I hate that injuries occurred prompting its creation, but I do love the way our outfield-of-the-future-come-a-little-early is looking. And, hello? Come from behind wins? Don’t look now but I think the Angels are back.
Okay, there’s still some tinkering that needs to happen. A few or, you know, a lot less guys left on base would be nice. And there is the little matter of Texas and their smaller – dare I say slowly shrinking? – but still substantial lead. But things are coming along nicely. And, go figure, take six out of seven against your division rivals including a 4-game sweep of the Mariners, jumping from last place to second, and suddenly optimism returns to the season outlook. I’m really looking forward to this week’s home stand and can’t wait to see the outcome if we meet Texas with this swagger instead of the nervous gaffs of a few weeks ago.
Thoughts on Kendrys Morales
Since the season began, Kendrys Morales has had his good days at the plate and his bad days. A few days ago, reporters and fans alike were concerned with the number of his recent 0-fers and today he is a hero after hitting 3 for 4 with a homerun and 2 RBIs. As for me? I’m just grateful he’s able to play again and am unsurprised and calm about the inconsistency. I know that being a DH is not as strenuous as being a position player, but think of what he’s asking of his ankle after, in essence, two seasons of immobility punctuated by rehab activities. I expect him to hit because he is a natural hitter. But I also expect him to have tired and sore days in addition to the usual small expected slumps an uninjured hitter will go through in a given season.
However, I think that Kendrys is another player with whom a little patience from the fans will eventually be rewarded. I think that based on what we’ve seen so far, he will contribute this season, even if his contributions come in waves. But in the meantime he’s building up strength, getting his swing back and getting into his old groove so that next season we stand a good chance of having the old Kendrys back 100% of the time – at least in the DH role ‘cause it’s not like we’ll need a new first baseman. And I for one think this possibility is worth putting up with more bad days this season than one might expect from your typical hitter – especially if the good days look like Sunday!
On a Personal Note…
Of course, as luck would have it, I was away this weekend so we only grabbed bits of the killer games on MLB.com Gameday and Twitter. Yeah, yeah, I know. The first step is admitting that you have a problem. Don’t worry, we have never sacrificed quality vacation time to stay indoors for the game and we never will. Witness, we spent Sunday hiking around the various trails in Yosemite Valley, not trying to catch the Angels day game. (Check out my Twitter page for a few photos if you are interested.) But, especially in the evenings, if we don’t have any other plans, what could be more relaxing and vacationy than kicking back with the game or seeking out a local’s haunt to watch it at? Besides, this was primarily a working vacation anyway, helping empty out the storage unit and move all of my husband’s family’s stuff back into the rebuilt cabin in Yosemite. We went from having the cabin totaled by a falling tree and the resulting snow melt/water damage/mold created by the hole in the roof a little over two years ago, to this last summer:
And, finally just in time for summer 2012, this:
…and I am looking forward to many fun trips back up here to come!
Do You Believe in Magic? …and Not So Much: Reflections on Last Week and a Season of Growth for the Angels
Baseball last week was bittersweet for me. We enjoyed a night at the ballpark Monday! But it was our last night at the ballpark of the season and the Angels lost, sounding the absolute final death knell in their post season hopes. But a little more sweet was added to temper the bitter Wednesday night when we all witnessed pure magic! An evening of baseball so amazing it can only be described with a Yogi Berra quote – it ain’t over, ‘til it’s over. My condolences to Red Sox and Braves fans, it’s not about rooting against your teams, it’s about loving the magic of a come from behind upset to begin with and then witnessing two within breaths of one another. Wow!
So, as for Monday night’s game? Well, it was a heartbreaker of game, an at that point expected heartbreak I quickly recovered from, but still. So many miscues and missed opportunities!
And that is not how I prefer to remember my season, especially when I had so much fun with the Angels for most of it…frequently frustrating fun as I have fully documented on these virtual pages, LOL, but fun even so. So imagine my delight when I reviewed the photos I took that evening and discovered a lot of smiling, fun shots of my favorite ballplayers that I think show off the great personality of the team as a whole. Instantly my goofy brain imagined strange scenarios and back stories for each of the photos because, really, I prefer to remember the season as fun:
All silliness aside, walking back to our car after the game Monday night, Seth and I rehashed the misses and mistakes. What if the Angels had played the first inning smoothly? What if they hadn’t stranded so many runners? What if, what if, what if. Seth declared that ‘what if’ was a metaphor for the whole season, though he said it wistfully and with some affection, not in anger. I agreed with him at the time, but the more I think about, the more I decided that Howie Kendrick’s last at bat was a better metaphor for the season.
Bottom of the 9th, two outs, one on base and the Angels are down by one. Were this the scenario back in 2009, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would get a double and the runner would score from first or on the very next at bat and my comeback kid Angels would have pulled it off again. Were this scenario last season, I would have been 75 to 80% certain that whoever was at bat would pop up or strike out, ending the game. Watching it all play out this season, I realized that I had absolutely no idea if Howie would be able to pull it off or not. With the 2011 Angels, you just never knew. And if that was sometimes frustrating, it was also sometimes amazing – a definite improvement over the previous season and an indication of growth in the right direction, giving me hope for 2012.
Look, 2011 was a season where there were darned few easy wins for the Angels. There were numerous contributing factors. Season long questions, first about the five spot in the starting rotation, then the four spot, then the five and back to the four and eventually both. Veteran bats failing at the same time rookie bats were learning. Not getting Kendrys back at first as expected – though in hindsight, they should have planned on that from the start – threw everyone for a loop and although Mark Trumbo became the first baseman for the team and how, there were the to-be-expected growing pains all season especially in April and May. Injuries, several of them to Torii Hunter which contributed in part to the bats situation. Cleanup spot by committee on a team with no natural cleanup spot hitter…which lead to a bunch of guys who are really excellent gap hitters, swinging for the fences and whiffing or popping out. (Trumbo is the cleanup hitter of the future in my opinion, but it was too early this season.) Then there was the bullpen. There was noticeable improvement over 2010 but, still, pick a day. They could be absolutely fantastic or the arson squad part deux. And, of course, the closer situation. From veteran closer gone bad to baby closer with flashes of brilliance amidst growing pains, that was another constant struggle this season.
All in all, the Angels won a lot of games but, for all of the reasons above and more, it was a grind to win almost every single one and I think that, quite simply, by the time we got to September the Angels were tired. Oh, in spirit they were willing and eager enough to get to the post season, witness the string of near comebacks. But I think that physically they were just too tired to take that next leap and carry themselves into the post season. And if they had made to the post season, I don’t think they would have made it past the first round, especially with the news that Mark Trumbo had been playing with a stress fracture in his foot for the last several games and was out. This isn’t a complaint at all, it’s an observation. I think they played their hearts out but, well, teams that are still capable of contending at the end, like the 2011 Rays, dig in harder to win even more when they find out that other teams in the race have lost. Teams that are just too tired to get there, like the 2011 Angels, collapse in relief to catch their breaths when they find out that other teams in the race have lost.
I wish it were different but I have a hard time being anything more than a little disappointed by it. I have watched a lot of So Cal baseball in my life, brilliant seasons, terrible seasons and everything in between, and I have to say that this was not a season that folks should get depressed over. This was a growing season that gives next season some promise. And, now, as we continue enjoying what so far has been a pretty fun post season – as fun as it can be without an Angels presence! – I will conclude this post with a few heartwarming thoughts for next season:
This last photo really struck a chord with me. Taken during the warm-up just before the top of the 9th, immediately after Mike Trout struck out looking, it appears to me that Peter Bourjos is consoling Trout a little bit. Who knows what they were actually saying to one another. For all I know, Trout was making sure his cleats are tied and Bourjos is laughing him or they weren’t even talking at all. But my photo, my interpretation – so consoling it is. And I think, as such, it’s a good message for everyone. Take heart Angels fans, they’ll get ‘em next season!
Mariano Rivera gracefully bows out of the All-Star Game due to injury and fire balling rookie closer Jordan Walden is named to the AL team in Rivera’s place, joining his equally deserving teammates Jered Weaver and Howie Kendrick. Yay! Peter Bourjos injures his hamstring. Oh no!! (Ouch! It didn’t look season ending or anything but it sure looked painful.) And Angels #1 prospect, 19-year old Mike Trout gets called up from AA to take Bourjos’ place for a few days. Yay!?! The Angels were only a game out of first. Yay! The Angels were tied for first. Yay!!! The Angels are a game out of first again. Eh. Wow, get busy and take a few days away from blogging and the whole world changes!
Well, as excited as I am about Trout debuting – and I wish him one heck of a great game tonight! – I understand this is a temporary move until Bourjos is back on his wing-shoed feet and I think that’s probably for the best, unless he just takes off on a tear that is. Trout is 19, after all, and the outfield is really clicking the way it is. So while we wait for this excitement to unfold in a few moments, I’m going to wade back into blogging – after four days off, the horror! – by posting my photos from the 4th of July game against the Tigers.
Yes, I went to the ballgame again. *big, huge grin* As I mentioned a few posts ago, I am in the middle of a borderline embarrassment of baseball riches in terms of game tickets right now. We have tickets to tomorrow’s game and Dierks Bentley concert. And, no, Dierks is not the only one that wants to have some fun tonight…er…tomorrow night. And then, next weekend we will enjoy our Bay Area baseball extravaganza. Crazy fun!
Catcher Jeff Mathis and the evening’s starter Joel Pineiro warm up in left field right in front of our seats. I am developing a wallet healthy love for the first row of the upper deck but nothing beats field seats, in my opinion, when you can find someone willing to part with them cheaply. This 4th of July, the stadium was packed, almost as packed as during the Freeway Series earlier in the weekend, and the fans were fantastic. We happened to be sitting near a lot of Tigers fans, all of them pretty cool. Most were on vacation but the couple in our row just moved to Southern California last week. Their new diehard Angels fan neighbor brought them to the game to welcome them to California and give them a taste of home at the same time. All three individuals were really, really nice and I adore their story. Now that’s being neighborly:
Ah the dreaded, and ever hilarious rookie reliever backpacks! We caught the Tigers heading toward the pen at the beginning of the game but couldn’t get a good shot of the Angels rookies until after the game. Apparently the Tigers prefer pink Hello Kitty for their small dose of rookie humiliation while they Angels go for the slightly more dignified blue. Hey, the Cookie Monster backpack Bobby Cassevah is sporting is actually pretty cool. And, yes, that is our All Star closer modeling the Tinkerbell backpack. Excellent sports all, really, and at least neither team played the Beiber card. I don’t know why all of the baseball hazing traditions amuse me so, but they do:
Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu greet Victor Martinez before the game begins. I like baseball players to be fiercely competitive once the game begins, but I enjoy seeing player fraternization before the game. I like the idea that a lot of the guys are friends outside of the game across team lines. And from what I have seen before Angels games Torii, Bobby and Erick Aybar have friends on every single team in the majors. Besides, aren’t the truly competitive more apt to go all out when competing against friends than just random folks they know in passing?:
Like all MLB teams who played at home on Monday, the Angels had special extended pre-game festivities in honor of the 4th of July. I love spending the 4th at a baseball game. It’s a wonderful celebration of so many of the things about our country that are great. Last year, after the 4th of July Angels game, my husband told me that was the most fun he had ever had on the 4th of July. And that says a lot because he’s an Eagle Scout who spent a lot of great 4ths backpacking and kayaking in truly gorgeous parts of the country:
Joel Pineiro took the mound for the Angels and pitched a great game – one run on five hits and three walks. Pineiro only had one strike out, but the sinkerball appeared to be sinking which was a good sign. This has been tricky for Pineiro this season, largely because of injuries I feel. So less hits, less walks, no homeruns and only one run. Pineiro is definitely getting back on a good track:
Tigers pitcher Charlie Furbush takes the mound in his Major League debut. (And don’t think I didn’t giggle a little when I typed that. Sometimes I’m still 12.) Regardless of the score, Furbush showed promise. He was not easily flustered and he didn’t make very many mistakes…the Angels were just able to take advantage of each mistake he did make, a nice change for a team so often baffled by debuting pitchers:
Torii Hunter “welcomes” Charlie Furbush to the big leagues, knocking a pitch into the bullpens for a one-run homerun. Vernon Wells also went yard in this game and the Angels offense was generally nice and present:
Goofy shenanigans in the Bullpen in the second inning. While I would love to know who said what that had Trevor Bell playing “hear no evil”, that will never happen. So I will have to content myself with this wonderfully silly photo:
Peter Bourjos takes a deep lead off third as Erick Aybar takes a swing in the 3rd inning. This shot immediately preceded one of the odder occurrences of the game. The umps charged Furbush with a balk and awarded Bourjos home plate. Personally, I hate the balk call. I have no problem with pitchers being a little deceptive and think that the call is never enforced consistently among the umpires anyway. But, hey, we’ll take the run. Bourjos was on a mission this inning. He had just stolen second and third easily and was bound and determined to score even without the balk call:
Mark Trumbo moves to catch the throw down in the 4th as Jhonny Peralta moves back to first base. Peralta was a little tricky for Pineiro, accounting for two of the five hits as well as, on this hit, the Tigers only RBI.
Peter Bourjos makes another great catch. What, can’t you tell its Fleet Pete? ;) No, this isn’t the highlight reel game changing catch in the 6th. That photo looks even worse. But it was another good catch. I am crossing my fingers and hoping Bourjos heals quickly and thoroughly because he is something to watch in center and his bat has been great lately too. No, the reason the photo is blurry isn’t because Fleet Pete moves too fast…though I suppose that if I’d thought this through a little better I could have passed it off that way. No, basically, getting good action shots from a distance with powerful zoom is a little like firing a rifle. You have to have excellent breathing control. In fact, again much like a rifle, it’s best if you can hold your breath, hold your body perfectly still and lightly press the shutter button. I am pretty good at this for most plays, but when it comes to amazing catches and also double plays, I get way too excited to hold my breath and keep still:
Mark Trumbo successfully steals second in the 6th, sliding under second baseman Ryan Raburn’s tag. Trumbo has joked in several interviews that he is “not as fast as the other kids” and he’s not…when you’re talking about Bourjos. But all jokes aside, Trumbo can move and he’s a smart base runner:
Angels fans stand as reliever Michael Kohn goes for the final out of the game. See, Southern California fans can be passionate! We (or rather they, not my husband and certainly not I) may spend way too much time playing with stupid beach balls in the stands, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care. Kohn did a great job in a non-close situation, getting the last three outs while handily preventing the game from becoming a close situation. And, yes, the Kohn puns are pretty much boundless at the Big A. You Kohn do it! InKohnceivable! Koooooohhhhhhnnnnnnn! And so on. Seriously, fans have scores of them:
And, of course, what would 4th of July be without a heavy dose of simulated rockets’ red glare? If the Angels had kept the fireworks show in the same location as last season’s display, our seats would have been some of the best in the house. As it was we had the foul pole in the way, but the fireworks show was still pretty darned cool. This season the 4th wasn’t a get away day for the Angels so the team, the office staff and their families were able to come sit out on the infield in front of the Angels dugout and enjoy the show with the fans. It sounds silly, but it was cute to catch a glimpse of our tough players just being “dad”. I think it would have been disrespectful to take photos of that, especially for a blog. However, Seth took some great shots of the fireworks show itself and this was the best one:
The Angels swept the Nationals and, oh yeah, we went to a baseball game on Monday! Work has been plentiful, all consuming, fun and, occasionally, FUn this week – I came home from Monday’s game and moved a project along until 2am, that kind of fun. Between that and the games I suddenly looked up, it’s Thursday already and I haven’t posted my photos. Oh well…
Our seats for Monday night’s game were just to the foul side of the foul pole down the first base line, in the second row. Prime visitor’s section this. And, indeed, we set in front of and behind two families of Nationals fans vacationing in Los Angeles and next to a Phillies fan and his young daughters who were here on one of the middle stops of a larger baseball tour vacation. They had just come from Seattle and were headed out to Arizona then Texas. So jealous! When everyone has the right attitude, visiting fans can be a kick to enjoy the game with and all parties involved in this particular case were really nice and a lot of fun to chat/snark with.
Bobby Abreu leads off of second. Being on the field level, these seats were excellent for catching glimpses of personality on the field, some of which I got on camera. As you can see, Bobby is a talker on the base paths, especially at second base. He always wears a huge smile and gestures broadly with his hands so it is unclear for the most part if he’s goofing around, talking trash, just shooting the breeze or what. Probably a little of columns A, B and C. What little I catch of it on TV is pretty darned funny…and of course he has 13 stolen bases (not bad for one of the few ballplayers left who are older than me :)) so perhaps this is all part of his strategy. Get ‘em laughing, then break for third?
Vernon Wells at bat. These seats were not, however, the best for views or photos of the plate. The first base umpire is always in the way. That’s okay. Ssometimes I enjoy having a closer vantage of the outfield and plays at second. Wells is continuing to heat up in June. He hit a single this at bat, which eventually lead to a run and then went four for five on Tuesday with a crucial two-run homerun. And Angels fans are starting to respond. Both developments are very welcome indeed.
Catcher Bobby Wilson and Pitching Coach Mike Butcher meet with Ervin Santana on the mound. Santana got off to an uneven start, giving up homeruns in the 2nd and 4th, but settled into a good rhythm after that. He lasted eight innings and on the Angels, starters don’t pitch in the 9th inning unless they’re pitching a shutout or something equally spectacular, so that’s pretty darned good.
Just a random shot of the Angels bullpens. The bullpens at the Big A are terraced, which is a little unusual. The Angels bullpen on the lowest “step” in the front. And if you look at the photo you can see the Nationals in the visitor’s bullpen one step up and behind the home bullpen. Starting another “step” above the visitor’s bullpen you have the Left Field Pavilion seats. In this bullpen shot you can see Angels relievers Michael Kohn (standing up), Fernando Rodney, Hisanori Takashi’s translator, Hisanori Takashi and Jordan Walden kneeling down and…what? Praying? Vomiting? Spitting sunflower seeds? Catching a few ZZZs? Probably the real answer isn’t nearly as funny so I’m going to go with one of mine.
The Nationals brought the Racing Presidents with them to Anaheim for the series. So was this a) an incredibly stupid idea, b) a fine example of Interleague sharing of baseball cultures and traditions, or c) I really hate Interleague and fail to see how these two comments are mutually exclusive? You make the call. I initially thought the idea was kind of dumb, only because this is the Nationals’ tradition and it’s the Angels ballpark. But it was kind of fun to see and it provided a between innings icebreaker with the Nationals fans around us. I took the opportunity to ask, so, what’s the deal with Teddy? He’s really never won? I mostly knew the answer, but it was fun hearing all about the goofy, fun tradition from fans. We’d been talking a little between innings before that, but talked a lot more often after: relievers we love/who make us cringe, hitters who are starting to do better than their batting average indicates, overinflated contracts…it turns out Angels fans and Nationals fans have a frightening amount in common.
Nationals Catcher Wilson Ramos and Pitching Coach Steve McCatty meet with Pitcher John Lannan on the mound. All was going well for Lannan and the game was tied 2 to 2 until the Angels started hitting in the 6th. The Angels scored their third run shortly after this meeting and then Lannan was pulled. I love the photo because of the facial expressions and body language. I can only imagine the conversation that went with it. McCatty: Alright then, how are we going to get out of this? Lannan: Well, gee I don’t know Coach. I thought maybe I’d throw some strikes and get him out.
Mark Trumbo grows impatient during the meeting on the mound - again, with being able to catch glimpses of personality from these seats. Mark Trumbo is usually as professional in demeanor as a veteran so I was amused to see him visibly impatient at another break in this already lengthy at bat, with his cheeks puffed out like an exasperated little kid. Very cute actually. He ground into a double play this at bat, but was pretty solid at the plate this series. His average is creeping back up again and he is the American League’s rookie homerun leader with 13. Coincidentally, the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa is the Rookie Major League homerun leader.
The Nationals outfielders, Roger Bernardina, Laynce Nix and Jayson Werth meet during the subsequent pitching change. ‘Damn Werth, you have lots of friends over here too. You’re a real popular guy in Anaheim.’ Suffice to say, Angels fans were heckling Werth all night, which isn’t surprising. There are a few folks I see regularly in this section and the left most corner of the right field MVP section (Season ticket holders? Maybe, maybe not.) who heckle pretty much everyone, occasionally even our own players. Whether or not that was the topic of the outfielders’ conversation, I’m sure Werth is used to it by now.
Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells joke after Peter snags a fly ball to end the inning. The outfield chemistry is shaping up much better as the months role by. This is very helpful, especially with various assorted centerfielders, corner outfielders turned DH and the occasional second baseman flopping roles in the outfield on a regular basis to accommodate injuries, Interleague and random acts of lineup juggling.
Yes that is Torii Hunter right in front of me in right field. The news report prior to Monday’s game was that Torii took batting and fielding practice Monday and looked good enough to return soon, possibly as soon a Wednesday. Imagine our delight when they brought him in as an unexpected substitution in the top of the 8th inning. The whole crowd erupted and we went especially crazy in the seats around right field with our welcome backs.
Jorda Walden takes the mound in the 9th. Unfortunately this would prove to be another blown save for Walden, his third in a row, when he gave up a two-out homerun to Danny Espinosa. The young Nationals fan in front of us turned around and informed me “Blown Save”. Thanks kid, I kind of figured that one out on my own. No liner notes needed. So, am I worried about Walden? No. Not at all. When I started advocating making the rookie our closer, I knew there would be some growing pains. This is a kid who had every intention of being a starter and never thought about the closer’s role until it turned out he had quite the aptitude for it this season. So far, he has 18 saves (including last night’s) which is respectable. And when he does blow it, instead of crumbling, Walden is right back in the game to get the next batter. Monday night when he gave up the homerun, he threw the next pitch for a called strike and then coaxed the batter into a ground out to end the inning. And he was right back in the game on Wednesday night with a 1-0 lead on the line and got the save. That says something to me. We will probably witness a few more growing pains this season, but I have no doubts that Jordan Walden is our closer.
Scott Downs pitches in the 10th as Howie Kendrick (who moved to first base in the 8th when Torii came in to the game) moves into position. I mentioned we were chatting about relievers with the Nationals fans? Well, Scott Downs is one of the few I never worry about. When I look over to the bullpen and see Downs warming up, with that distinctive haircut easily identifiable across the field, I breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, he has an off outing here and there, but by and large he comes in and gets it done and he has five wins for the season, as many as some teams’ starters, to prove it. Monday night and the rest of the Nationals series was no exception.
Brian Bixler stands on second flanked by second baseman Maicer Izturis and third baseman Alberto Callaspo. Bixler reached 2nd on an uncharacteristic fielding error by Maicer. There were an annoying number of Angels fielding errors this series actually, but we recovered from all of them to sweep. I hope the errors are more an indication of tiredness from the epic Four Corners Road Trip than anything more trend setting, shall we say.
Peter Bourjos takes a long lead off third. I think it is safe to say that Bourjos has worked through his slump at the plate. He went four for five on Monday with one RBI and was a crucial component of the 10th inning rally, knocking a ground rules double into the stands mere feet from my seat, that put Callaspo in scoring position for Maicer Izturis’ walk-off single. Yes, when that happened I tapped the young Nationals fan in front of us on the shoulder and informed him “Walk off.” Fair’s fair right? Acutally, everyone was laughing both over the “Blown Save” and the “Walk Off.”
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.
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!
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.
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?