Results tagged ‘ Hank Conger ’
Sweeping the Mariners in a four game series was a most fitting way for the Angels to head into the All Star Break. After all, it was series win over the Mariners at the beginning of the epic Four Corners Road Trip that helped June’s struggling Angels turn it around and embark on a 19 and 6 streak. During the Angels reign of terror through the National League and back again, bats were discovered, starting pitchers delivered gems, bullpen pitchers delivered holds and saves a plenty and a talented nineteen-year old number one prospect made his Angels debut. I attended Saturday’s nine to three victory and hd a blast watching our guys do their thing and the kid fitting right in…you know, with all of the other Angels kids.
Yes, with Peter Bourjos’ unfortunate hamstring strain late in Thursday’s game, Trout-mas came early to Anaheim this year. No, Mike Trout did not knock two grandslam homeruns in his first game or singlehandedly field every single ball that made it to the grass as the increasingly outrageous hype surrounding this talented young man might have lead one to believe. But what he did do was get a hit and an RBI in his second game in the show. Show off his speed on the base paths and in the outfield. He did display a rookie’s hesitancy on several plays, which is to be expected, but more than made up for it with one highlight reel, game saving catch and several other catches of varying difficulty and generally charm the heck out of Angels fans everywhere with the joy he takes in the game and his pleasure at just being called up.
So what is my assessment of the lad? I am really pleased. I think he’s extremely talented and a stellar future corner outfielder. Corner outfielder? What’s that you say? Yep. You read that right. Trout can fly and dive and catch but no more so than our current future Gold Glove centerfielder (if not this season then soon) Peter Bourjos. And Bourjos has a strong, sure arm while Trout…well he doesn’t have Johnny Damon’s arm or anything, but baring some serious improvement, it isn’t strong enough for centerfield. Still, the thought of an outfield in 2012 or 2013 with Bourjos in center and Trout in left gives me goosebumps thinking of all the extra base hits they will rob. And although he didn’t really get piece of one this series, Trout has more of an extra base hits bat than Bourjos so they will complement one another nicely in that regard as well…as they blaze around the basepaths forcing errors left and right. To wax Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom-ish for a moment: My God, it will be beautiful!
But for this season, once Bourjos is back in shape, I like our existing outfield with players who have already ironed out their communications issues and work as a unit. I also think Trout’s bat is going to take the same amount of time to warm up as our other rookies’ did, and would rather the team deal with that at the beginning of next season rather than the middle of this one…and hopefully for Trout, the vets won’t make him walk up to Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA next time. Too funny!
But back to Saturday’s game. Now that’s a homerun swing! I lucked out and happened to snap the photo right as Torii hit his first of what would be two homeruns for the evening.
Michael Pineda was every bit as formidable as his reputation states. He sat down six Angels in a row to complete the first two innings.
And I think that might have been the story of the game, were it not for our secret weapon: Rookies who had faced Pineda in the minor leagues just last season! Mark Trumbo said hey, I know how to hit this guy and got the Angels off to a nice start in the 3rd with a single. He would also homer in the 8th.
Hank Conger also knew Pineda and stood his ground against Pineda unafraid and worked the count into a walk. Then Mike Trout got his first base hit, a sacrifice he beat out with his speed, and his first RBI and Trumbo scored.
…Setting the stage for Torii’s first homerun of the evening.
Joel Pineiro pitched a pretty good game. He had a strong start and overcame a shaky 5th inning to deliver seven innings with seven strike outs and only one walk…he did allow ten hits, but the infield and outfield had his back. The Angels took off scoring runs again in the bottom of the 5th and the tide never came close to turning again.
Here are a few other snapshots from the game. Erick Aybar tries to sell an attempted pick off of Greg Halman to the umpire. Don’t worry, the ump didn’t blow this one. Chalk it up to Erick’s poor acting chops…or, you know, the ball sitting there on the grass two feet behind him.
Peter Bourjos, Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo chat in the dugout during an Angels at bat. Bourjos is still day to day but it sounds like he should be well enough to play after the All Star Break.
Batting coach Chris Chamblis, Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan and Jack Cust chat in the dugout. “Coach, if I see fireworks come out of the rockpile one more time…”
Former Angel Adam Kennedy steps up to the plate. This was a good photo of Hank Conger maneuvering behind the plate.
Trumbo decides to make the play himself. Yoooou’re out!
The Angels bullpen heads for the clubhouse after the game. Hmmm…looks like it was Jordan Walden’s turn for the Cookie Monster backpack.
And now? Well, it’s good to be busy at work and headed up to the Bay Area because otherwise I’d be awfully mopey for baseball this week. I love seeing the right players named to the All Star Teams because it is an honor and it tickles them, but I seldom get really pumped for the All Star Game itself.
Saturday, country singer Dierks Bentley and his band helped the Big A get a little bit Sideways following a killer 9 to 3 victory over the Mariners for the second concert in the Angels 50th Anniversary Summer Concert Series. Of course I went to the game too, and that was even more fun than the concert, but it was faster to write about the concert first…so stay tuned for the game/series/sweep! notes, same bat station, same bat blog…or something like that…but enough of that. Back to the concert.
The grounds crew move the stage into position and the is stage firmly in place behind second base and ready to rock and roll…er…with country flair?…well, I think country rocks just as hard as my rock and roll faves anyway, so you get the general idea. Anyway, when I was choosing tickets for this game, I was having a hard time picturing how the stage would be set up and didn’t find a lot of help online. So, Angels fans or anyone else planning on taking in one of the other concert offerings this summer, take a look at the pics below and think of the favorite places in your price range from which to view Aybar or Kendrick diving for a ball on the grass just behind second base.
Dierks Bentley and his bad move out to the stage. Hey, it was almost as cool as Downs or Walden making an entry from the bullpen. ;)
Dierks Bentley rocks out with his guitar and invites a fan to “come a little closer.” I liked Dierks Bentley before this concert. My husband turned me on to country about the time we got married and Bentley is one of many acts I have come to love for his clever, oft sarcastic lyrics, rich voice and rocking guitar. But hearing the band perform live, I love them all the more – especially after the bluegrass rendition of U2’s Pride they performed in honor of our grounds crew and their herculean efforts to prepare the Big A for and rehab it from the U2 concert last month.
Angels players enjoy the concert! Interested Angels and their families watched the concert from in front of the dugout. It was nice to see the guys enjoying themselves one game away from ending a fantastic home stand. I have identified Angels players where I could, but some of these guys could be staff or Mariners players joining their friends. (There are no intentional shots of family members here.) Show me a headshot of any of the Angels in uniform and I can tell you who it is, but in street clothes I freely admit that I can’t identify most them. Sadly, I would be the fan who couldn’t recognize some of her favorite Angels if she accidentally sat next to them in a bar…until they spoke that is. That’s just how my memory works. I once sat in front of Martin Sheen at a performance of Death of a Salesman and had no idea it was him until he spoke.
Closer shots of the bass and fiddle players. I am a sucker for instruments beyond the typical “Rock Band” set up of guitar, bass guitar, drums and keyboard. The Barenaked Ladies bass. Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murpheys bagpipes. Boingo’s horn section and “rumba phones”. Jethro Tull’s “heavy metal” flute. I adore them all! So is it any wonder I started liking country music largely for the fiddles, banjos and bass?
The band takes a “huddle” post concert. All told, Bentley and band gave us nearly an hour of great music. The set list was as follows: Feel That Fire, Every Mile a Memory, Am I the Only One, Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go), Trying to Stop Your Leaving, Settle for a Slowdown, Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do, Up on the Ridge, How Am I Doin’, Pride (In the Name of Love), Come a Little Closer, Sideways, What Was I Thinkin’. And, let me tell you, jotting that down at the concert gave me pleasant flashbacks to my college days, noting the set lists for Nine Inch Nails and the last Boingo Halloween concert to post on Occidental College’s usenet group for my less fortunate friends to enjoy. How’s that for the way back machine, ladies and gents? ;)
All told, I give the summer concert series a huge thumbs up. It was a lot of fun to cap off the win rocking out in the stands with other fans. The music was great and the sound was even decent considering the sheer amount of cement involved in stadium concerts. The Angels grounds crew and special events staff did an amazing job getting the concert set up quickly after the game and Bentley and his band absolutely did not disappoint. And they were so gracious and charming. Bentley repeatedly praised the Angels organization, grounds crew and players. He admired the fans’ tailgating expertise and kept telling us how tickled he was to be performing in a well lit stadium where he could see all of us. Apparently he’s a real baseball fan too and roots for the D-Backs.
I have but one small complaint. I have extremely eclectic taste in music. I was raised on classic rock. I went through a hair band and metal phase. I came of age during the alternative and grunge movements. I love, love, love punk, especially with bag pipes. I really like country music from the traditional to the poppy. I like ska, jazz, blues, surf rock, rockabilly, big band, Dixieland, Irish folk music, classical, some hip-hop, funk and pop, and the list goes on. And yet, there was only one out of the four concerts I wanted to attend. Granted, I really wanted to attend this one, but I anticipated drooling over at least two or three of the four. But even if that were to be the case every year from here on out, I would still vote for continuing the concert series promotion long after the anniversary. Way to go Angels!
Interleague has always been good for the Angels. This year the team won every Interleague series and finished by taking two from the Dodgers this weekend at the big A. Friday’s game was the Angels sole loss in this series, proof perhaps that a day of rest is not always in order. The team’s level of play across the board prompted me to comment on FaceBook “The Revolution may not be televised, but the Zombie Apocalypse just aired on Fox Sports West.” But they were back in fine form Saturday and Sunday, with a dominant performance against Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and a tightly contested duel between Ervin Santana and Chad Billingsley on Sunday.
Seth and I had tickets to Saturday’s game, good seats in the club section just on the foul side of the left field pole. It’s amazing what folks will part with cheap these days. :) Anyway, the energy was high and the fan interaction was a lot of fun, one reason I love Freeway Series games. Our seats were in front of three suites – one with Dodgers fans sandwiched between two filled with Angels fans – and intermingled with mix of fans of both teams. The suite dwellers were the fun, loud side of thoroughly hammered and formed the loudest component of both teams cheering/mostly friendly trash talk sections. The funniest part was after a one-two-three inning for Weaver when the Angels were already well ahead. The Dodgers suite switched from yelling “Let’s Go Dodgers” to “Let’s Go Yankees” of all things in perfect unison. They earned a lot of laughter and claps of approval from the Angels crowd. Who doesn’t appreciate a good sport?
Jered Weaver and Clayton Kershaw warm up in the bullpens just before first pitch. This photo shows off the side by side terraced bullpens I spoke of earlier. Seth and I did take the camera to the game, but some absolute dork left the memory stick at home in her computer. She had long brown hair and freckles…oh, yeah…it was me. J So there aren’t as many from the game and these photos are not as good as some of our others. To get the good photos, you have to have enough memory to snap several shots of a play or an at bat.
Jered Weaver warms up before the game. Weaver pitched a dominant game, allowing only four hits and one run in eight innings. At first it didn’t look like he was going to get much run support, as usual. But in the end the guys gave him downright gaudy seven runs. Hey, I could get used to gaudy and I’ll bet our pitchers could too.
Garret Anderson throws out the first pitch. As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration Angels alumni will throw out every first pitch this season. Recent retiree Garret Anderson threw out the first pitch on Saturday and I was thrilled to be on hand to watch this Angels great, still the holder of eight different team batting titles, accept the honor. Fernando Valenzuela threw out the first pitch on Friday, a controversial choice among Angels fans because he only played for the Angels for one year. I, personally liked the idea of including Fernando because of what he meant to baseball in California and how his rising star helped show off the considerable talents of our own skipper, Mike Scioscia, when he was a young catcher trying to earn the everyday role. Besides, I think it was a nice touch on the part of the Angels front office to choose Angels alumni for this series who also had Dodger ties, underscoring the long, intertwined history between our two teams.
Hank Conger chats with Jordan Walden and the bullpen and Bullpen Coach Steve Soliz address the relievers before the game. One, I like these photos my husband took from our vantage just above and in front of the bullpen because you can see some of the personalities and bonding in our bullpen this season. But also, this series, and indeed for most of interleague, the bullpen flat out rocked and I wanted to take a minute to recognized their important contribution.
Jeff Mathis leads off of second base after knocking a double into left field. This series was marked by unexpected but extremely welcome contributions at the plate from unlikely sources. Russell Branyan knocked in the winning run plus on with a two-run no doubter on Sunday and on Saturday it was Jeff Mathis with a solid double putting him in position to score the Angels first run of the night. He also had a single and a nice sacrifice bunt (and a badly failed sacrifice bunt, but we’re only talking positive here.)
Vernon Wells crossing the plate and celebrating with Mark Trumbo and Erick Aybar after another timely homerun. I am really enjoying his bat right now!! I managed to catch Wells doing his point to the sky as he crosses the plate and I love the exchange between Wells and Trumbo. It looks like Trumbo is saying “Dude, what was that?! How far did that go?!”
Behold the power of the rally manicure! I fidget. When I’m writing, when I’m resting, when I’m watching the game from home, just whenever. Sometimes the end result is useful, like folded laundry or and organized bill file and sometimes it’s just really silly, like random nail art for work or, you know, the ballgame. But I got more compliments on the silly things Saturday that I figured I would post them for posterity and/or mockery…and hey, if I were the sort to be superstitious about such things, they did win didn’t they? :)
Doesn’t everyone love a win?! The Angels celebrate after the game.
And in news outside of baseball, this weekend further rocked because Seth and I got out on the bikes a lot. I have come a long way since Memorial Day weekend and was able to ride in the rough again…okay, it was mild rough, but still. We took this trail on Saturday and again this morning. Go go Gadget knee. :)
Okay, so that title could accurately describe most Angels games this season, including games we win. But, after scoring only 10 runs in the last 6 games (or the month of June so far, if you prefer), I felt it was particularly appropriate today. Mercifully, and quite improbably, the entire AL West lost on both Monday and Tuesday so this hasn’t hurt the Angels as badly as it could have, though it means we missed to stellar opportunities to gain ground on Texas and Seattle. I’m not seriously pushing the panic button yet, but Klaatu barada nikto already! Angels stop the team’s self-destruction now, while we still can without an extremely difficult slog uphill!
I spent the majority of Monday’s game against the Rays alternately begging, pleading and threatening in the direction of the TV for the Angels to just score some runs in the plural. No dice. Last night was sadly much of the same, but it was bittersweet. The loss was a blow, but any night at the ballpark, especially an unexpected one, can only be a good one. Yes, an unexpected night at the ballpark. My husband called me just before four yesterday, obviously very busy at work, and barely had time to listen to my excited “Hell, yeah!” response to his “If I told you we had the company seats tonight could you run into Pasadena and pick up the tickets?” before rushing me off the phone with an OkayThanksCallYouLater. Tease.
Except he wasn’t teasing. (Also, he wasn’t rude. We give each other leave to outright hang up on one another at work if necessary. Business is important and when it has to come first, well then, it does with no whining or hurt feelings.) Long story short – sales contest, Angels tickets reward, amazing company seats and your intrepid blogger’s mission, which she ecstatically chose to accept, was driving from Whittier to Pasadena for the tickets, to Azusa for the Angels gear and camera, to Brea to pick up the husband and then to Anaheim for the game. A journey of 75 miles, in less than 3 hours, in L.A. rush hour traffic…and we just made it inside the stadium by first pitch, whoo hoo!
The view from the seats – yes, that is home plate you see. We were ten rows back from the sign in front. Just, wow! I only wish we could have seen an amazing comeback from these seats. If I were ever so lucky as to be outrageously wealthy, I wouldn’t have a box, I would buy season tickets someplace like this – on the field, home team side, close to plate but still on the dangerous side of the net and as close to the front row as I could get.
Dan Haren on the mound, executing the brief pause in his delivery. I call it the antici…..pation delivery. This was Haren’s first time back on the mound after the back pain that delayed his originally scheduled Saturday start – because he was able to pitch in the same spin through the rotation, it counts as a delayed start, not a missed start, so his personal record remains intact. He was really working for each pitch in the first four innings and my initial thought was that he started back too soon. But he worked back into a strong rhythm after that and looked as good as ever by the 5th. I guess the guy really did just need to get out there and pitch. My hat’s off to you Dan. Even with the rough patch, you pitched well enough to win.
Bobby Abreu in left field. Because he is Mike Scioscia and this is what he does, but more so lately because of the team’s miniscule RISP, there have been quite a few lineup shakeups the last few weeks. Sorry Bobby, but last night’s lineup resulted in one of my least favorite outfield configurations – Bobby in left, Vernon Wells in center and Torii Hunter in right. We have absolutely zero speed on the left side of the outfield with this configuration and less speed than ideal in the center and on the right. Also, Wells is much better these days in the smaller area of left field and he just plain doesn’t play our center field wall well. The end result was a triple to left that should have been a double and a double to center that should have been an out, among other issues.
Mark Trumbo and runner Casey Kotchman (At least, I’m 90% certain it’s Kotchman based on the order of the photos. Let me know if I am wrong) move with the pitch. This was partially just me playing with the camera from our close to the field vantage, but I like the photo. Mark Trumbo has been a bright spot in terms of hitting for power and continuing to produce during the team’s at the plate slump. It was a shame that his leadoff double turned triple by an error in the 7th was wasted.
Hank Conger maneuvers behind the plate. This is partially another Kristen was playing with camera again (see the ball), and partially a Kristen really loves catchers photo. I can’t help it, most of my favorite players are catchers (or centerfielders…or short stops…or more or less anyone in an Angels uniform ;) ). What can I say? I admire the guy who calls the shots on the play, holds the pitcher together when things are getting rough, and faces down major league freight trains bearing down on him several times a game, while he blocks the plate like a badass. Catchers rock! And I think Conger is shaping up to be a very, very good one.
Joe Maddon says, oh and one other thing during an argument with the umpires. I still haven’t watched the replay myself, wherein it sounds like Johnny Damon was in fact out at the plate, as it appeared from my vantage pretty much right there, but it was a really close play. Great throw from Torii to the plate and great execution by catcher Hank Conger either way. And wow, Damon really is playing like his younger self again on the Rays.
Howie Kendrick at the plate with Bobby Abreu on deck. Howie, less than a week off the DL, had a strong ground rules double hit this evening and Bobby continued his streak at the plate, going 2 for 4, both of which were bright spots.
Torii warms up before his final at bat. I really hate it when Torii strikes out and especially in the last inning, because you can see in his face how much not coming through bothers him. But he went 2 for 4 this game so maybe things are falling back into place for him.
Erick Aybar looking sheepish – as well he should after those plays at short. This photo montage wasn’t meant to be a litany of the Angels ills last night, but it’s hard to be a complete Pollyanna. Aybar is one of my favorite short stops most of the time. But every few games he starts making errors and missing plays such that it boggles the mind to think it’s still the same guy at short. This was one of those games, though he did help out with a hit to open the first inning and his outs at the plate came early enough in each inning that he was not one of the game’s rally killers.
Kevin Jepsen takes the mound. Jepsen had a refreshing outing for the last one and one/third innings – one hit, one intentional walk (I hate this play, and question it almost every time even though I know it is well accepted strategy.) and one very well timed and important strike out. When Jep pitches like this, I love to see him on the mound. Even though he is no longer number 65, he’s started walking out to Rob Zombie’s Thunderkiss ’65 again which is always a fun one to hear, especially if it helps Jep bring back the swagger of some of his better outings in years past.
And that was my impromptu evening at the ballpark. Yay for the ballpark. Sob for the loss. Hopefully the Angels bring their clutch bats to the final game because I am about to leave for the game…with more planned tickets this time.
Mark Trumbo hit a homerun into the top tier of the K’s waterfall. Following almost immediately on his heels, Peter Bourjos hit a homerun. Torii Hunter smacked two homeruns into the stands and went three for five! Bobby Abreu hit two doubles (he went four for five!) and Hank Conger hit one. Alberto Callaspo was a clutch singles machine and Russel Branyan contributed as well for a total of 15 Angels hits. Hel-lo offense! Of course, after Ervin Santana gave up two homeruns in the first inning and six runs in the first two innings, the Angels needed every single ounce of that offensive effort to pull off today’s 10 to 8 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Even though Santana had a bad start, I can’t say enough good things about today’s come from behind victory. The team really pulled together with today’s areas of strength working overtime to pick up the slack from today’s areas of weakness. Santana was able to focus and pull himself together after the initial beating from the Royals offense and give the team four good, scoreless innings after that. Rich Thompson had an uncharacteristically shaky outing but Kevin Jepsen was able to come in strong and set the Royals down with more heat than we’ve seen from him in a while. Fernando Rodney gave us a few heart palpitations with his pitch counts but still went one, two, three to finish the game, Jordan Walden having thrown too many pitches Sunday to close. And behind it all was the fielding and offense picking everyone up where they needed it.
I’m sure some folks are going to focus on the things the Angels did wrong today, and there is a fair bit to focus on there. But I would rather focus on everything they did right and the fact that together, as a team, they did not give up for one second. Every time the Royals added more runs to the scoreboard – and they were hot, hot, hot, playing excellent baseball for most of the day – the Angels rallied and pressed even harder to catch up. Well done and light that baby up!
Tales from the DL
Is it just me or does nearly every team have way too many DL woes this season? I know we do. But from all reports Howie Kendrick should return from the DL for this weekend’s homestand against the Yankees, which can only mean good things for the offense, not to mention our current Franken-arrangements in the infield and outfield. Vernon Wells is tentatively scheduled to return the following homestand. I am glad because the Franken-arrangements can only last for so long before we have tired ballplayers and no good options to spell them, that and I think he was starting to turn the page at the plate.
Scott Kazmir, on the other hand, continues getting beaten to a bloody pulp by the opposing teams’ offense in his AAA rehab assignment. His AAA E.R.A. is 36.00 and that’s with lasting roughly only three innings per outing. I was rooting for him to get better. But I thought that ship might have sailed after his first two starts back in April. Now, sadly, I am sure of it.
Now that was the way to come back from a bad couple of weeks. Nine runs on ten hits to beat the Braves 9 to 0. Ervin Santana pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout and was just plain nasty, striking out seven and walking no one, throwing both his slider and breaking ball for strikes. Not a single Brave made it to second base. It was beautiful.
Our bats were back and the rookies in particular were in fine form. Mark Trumbo had a fantastic game with a couple of stellar plays at first, a three-run homerun and two additional hits, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Alexi Amarista went hitless but continues to impress in the field with several great plays and one leaping catch that did not look possible…until he did it. Hank Conger had a great night behind the plate and Peter Bourjos (okay, technically no longer a rookie, but only just barely) was able to put those quick feet to use yet again in center and on the base paths, with one hit, one hit by pitch and two runs scored.
The veterans were not left out of the fun either. Torii Hunter, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Bobby Abreu all had hits. Torii had a great night in right field and even managed to make fun of his own blunder against the Mariners. He pretended, quite convincingly, to lose the ball in the twilight on a routine pop-up before catching it effortlessly, but not before frightening Santana, Bourjos and Mike Scioscia. Well played Torii! We were cracking up over here.
Oh, and I have decided that Ervin Santana is Hobbes. Outside of the game, he is charming, funny and downright sweet seeming in interviews. The term affable comes to mind. Much like the warm fuzzy side of Calvin’s imaginary companion. On the mound with his game face on, however, Santana’s face settles into an intense predatory smile and, though his eyes are completely hidden in the shadow of his cap, I always expect them to glow from underneath, like Hobbes in pouncing mode with the opposing team’s batters in the role of the unsuspecting Calvin just home from school. I love it!
So, this week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread: grilled turkey and brie sandwiches topped with apples, pickled red onions and baby greens tossed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and accompanied by Rio Seco’s (the baseball winery) MVP reserve, a flavorful Cabernet, Cab Franc and Merlot blend perfectly themed for the evening. It was delicious but, even better, it was a great game! Keep it up gentlemen, this could be the beginning of a wonderful trend!
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I realize that I am in the minority on MLBlogs, but I actually like Interleague play…and not just because the Angels usually rock it. I understand it’s not traditional. I understand that many of the rivalries are manufactured. I understand it can lead to uneven match-ups across a given division, but I don’t care. It’s just plain fun to watch the kind of crazy scenarios we played out as kids – the Angels catching balls against the backdrop of Wrigley’s ivy, the Dodgers dealing with the green monster – come to life.
Part of my attitude may come from the fact that Interleague play developed during the period of my baseball discontent and self-imposed exile from the sport. I didn’t watch it develop like the rest of you. I just checked back into the game in 2004 and *poof* we have Interleague play now. I am enough of a purist that, when I came back to baseball, I hated the new three division league structure, I hated the addition of wild card teams to the playoffs and I hated the whole stupid pitch count thing, but I enjoyed Interleague play. Go figure. Incidentally, I have come to accept three divisions and wild card teams, though it happened slowly and grudgingly, but I still do not like pitch counts and overspecialization among pitchers at all.
According to the wisdom of the post season ad campaigns, you can’t script October. While that is certainly true, I would argue that you really can’t script the other six months leading up to October either. It’s May 1st and the Indians have the best record in baseball while the Twins have the worst. ‘Nuff said. Any game has the potential to surprise and shock you, perhaps not as dramatically in the regular season as in the post season, but that potential is still there. This weekend’s Angels games were full of surprises for me, some pleasant, others groan worthy.
I didn’t expect Joel Pineiro to pitch such a strong game fresh off of the DL – seven innings with three strike outs, giving up only four hits and one walk, a nice surprise to say the least. Unfortunately, one of those hits was a Matt Joyce homerun and the Rays’ James Shields was pitching an even better game than Pineiro. With Shields dealing and the Angels unable to catch him in even one mistake for eight innings, I didn’t expect Torii to catch a piece of the ball in the 9th, or Howie to bring him home after the pitching change. With the exhilaration of tying the game up and getting through the bottom of the ninth unscathed, who could have imagined losing to a walk-off wild pitch in the tenth? Welcome back Joel! The guys really owe you run support next time and I tip my cap to Shields.
Cut to today when Angels fans tuned in to see ace Jered Weaver take on Alex Cobb, a 23-year old rookie right hander brought up from the minors just for the occasion, only to watch rookie vs. rookie instead as a nasty bout with the flu scratched Weaver’s start and Tyler Chatwood took the mound in his place. From there, nothing proceeded according to normal expectation. Chatwood actually lost his composure and took an entire inning to recover, giving up five runs in the process. Things looked grim in the first and I was really worried the Angels were going to give up, but with a Hank Conger solo homerun in the 2nd inning, they started to catch up instead.
Chatwood and the Bullpen kept the Rays from scoring again. Yes, our Bullen absolutely rocked! Rich Thompson had a great inning. Fernando Rodney nearly scared us to death by walking his first batter, but redeemed the walk and yesterday’s wild pitch when he helped with a tight double play and struck out the final batter. And I can tell I am going to adore Scott Downs. Calm and collected on the mound, he even calmed the infield down with jokes and a self deprecating smile after he accidentally turned a near certain double play into a single out and then returned to sitting batters down one by one.
The Angels’ bats were back and the team tied things up with help from Torii, Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo and others. But the best play of the game was one of those baseball surprises I live for. Homeruns are fun and all, but this chick digs cleverly manufactured runs. With one out in the 8th inning, Torii on third and Vernon Wells on first, Conger hit a hard line drive to second base for an unfortunate sure double play. Running on contact, Wells was within tagging distance of Ben Zobrist when he fielded the ball, but stopped just out of Zobrist’s reach. Wells then feinted toward first when Zobrist leaned in to tag him, drawing Zobrist and first baseman Casey Kotchman into a brief, unnecessary pickle during which they tagged first to get Conger out…and paid no attention to Torii who dashed home and scored. Wells was then tagged out in short order to end the inning, but the damage was done. The Rays did not score in the 8th and Jordan Walden shut everything down like clockwork in the 9th. After such a dreadful first inning, I was not expecting a lit halo but, yay! I certainly didn’t expect a televised game to have me yelling and cheering myself hoarse with the same unrestrained passion I might exhibit at the ball park either…and neither, I’m sure, did my neighbors. Sorry guys!
And there is even an unexpected silver lining to come out of Weaver’s scratched start. Through a quirk of scheduling, the Red Sox originally weren’t going to face Weaver this season…But now Weaver will start on Monday or Tuesday as his health permits. I have a feeling this series against the Sox will be very different from the last one Yay!!
At the risk of sounding very Mother Hen-ish, did everyone see the information about the switch to WordPress this coming weekend on MLBlogosphere? It sounds like the changes are going to be fantastic! But we need to make sure we have an updated email address attached to our accounts and a couple of other things in preparation for the transition….oh, and be prepred for no blogging this weekend – The Horror! ;) Okay, maybe this is less Mother Hen, than a project management holdover from numerous system changes at a previous job.
No team can win them all, that’s for certain. So you’d think I would be more calm and philosophical during a tight extra innings game on a late April afternoon…that I wasn’t really supposed to be paying much attention to anyway, what with the game taking place during business hours and all. I blame my computer. Okay. And maybe this tiny little obsession I have with Angels baseball. But mostly my computer.
I wasn’t going to have time for the game at all, until my laptop’s hard drive died a most inconvenient death the minute I tried to log into email…inconvenient because remote employees do not have access to shared network folders and I have been extremely lax about backing up my files on my own even though I really know better. Long story short, our IT guys are amazing and by 8 p.m, I had all of my files intact and a brand new hard drive. But for the 12 hours in between these two occurrences? Well, I quickly exhausted everything I could possibly do that was of a business nature without access to my own files and anything additional I could scounge. So from about 5 on it was me and the Angels and the anxiety of waiting to see if my files would pull through.
By the time we got to the 8th inning, I was so antsy between the close game, all of the weird plays and calls, and the unusual stresses of my own day, that I ditched the phone and sat in my car in the parking lot listening to the rest of the game on the radio – groaning over the terrible (game costing, really) umpire call, cheering wildly for Bobby Abreu’s RBI double, swearing loudly over the botched play…I mean triple…in left field (also game costing). It’s possible I even bit my nails…or at least looked at them in a way that was starting to make them feel uncomfortable. And all of this for one late April game? Clearly, it was my computer’s fault.
Removed from the passions of the game itself, however, I am philosophical about the loss. First, I have to give props to the A’s and Tyson Ross. It was a good game and Tyson Ross is definitely another exciting, young pitcher…grrrrr. Still, the Angels managed to keep the game close, even while displaying the team’s flaws. And any loss you can learn from…well…pretty much still sucks. But I guess it’s kind of like an unintentionally productive out – life would have been better without the out part but at least you have something to show for it. So, what have learned from the series against the A’s, wins and losses alike?:
- Our pitching is strong. Weaver? ’nuff said. Chatwood? I am continually impressed by his confidence on the mound and ability to battle through situations where he gets himself into trouble. I anticipate him getting himself into trouble less often as the season progresses. And when Dan Haren has a “bad” outing (two walks, one hit batsman), it’s still only a three hit, one (unearned) run affair. Pretty darned winnable for the Angels. Can we give this man some run support please?
- The Angels need to work on RISP. This is hardly news, but what was most apparent to me in this series is that we strand a lot of batters and miss opportunities even in a winning game, even in a high scoring game. It’s just less apparent at that point. We need to review situational hitting – stop overswinging on pitches in hopes of knocking it out of the park when a base hit would get the job done.
- I’m not going to pick on our veteran players at the plate. No, some players aren’t contributing yet. Yes, this is the same thing Angels fanss say pretty much every April. There are small signs here and there that certain bats are starting to warm up. I fully anticipate not needing to bring this up any further by mid May.
- Hank Conger is really good behind the dish and only going to get better but he and Haren should talk a bit and get on the same page. This way, they don’t have to argue pitches and Conger can keep Haren that good, striking out batters left and right, kind of mad instead of the bad, slipping and hitting batters with the ball, kind of mad.
- Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells need to work together a little longer before they are fully in sync. Bourjos and Torii Hunter seemed to read each other well from day one last season, but I know this is different with every player. Most of the folks I hear are blaming the botched catch…I mean triple…on Wells. I’ve watched the replay a few times and I think it was Bourjos’ error. It’s the centerfielder’s job to call the ball, especially when running all the way into left field to catch it when the left fielder is about to make the catch. I’m not chewing on either player here, I just think this is one of those April learning moments – both need to communicate better with one another and Bourjos – greatly improved over last season when he was already frighteningly good – still has situations here and there where he needs to call the ball with more authority.
- The Angels are better with Mark Trumbo at first base. Howie Kendrick has such a great glove at second that putting him at first always seems like a good idea for a game or two…until we have a game with difficult plays at first. I’m sure Howie could be fine at first with a solid month playing the position like he had in ’06, but why? Howie is a great second baseman and we have Trumbo to play first.
- I don’t mind the line-up tinkering as much this season. I think that, in particular, switching between Bourjos and Erick Aybar as the leadoff man when Maicer Izturis is not available is keeping either one of them from feeling too much pressure and, as a result, we’re getting decent production out of both of them in the leadoff spot more games than not.
Not a bad position to be in in April, really, especially when time will take care of a lot of the problems on its own and there is still time to work on the rest. Interestingly enough, I think the A’s could take my bullet points, change a few of the specific details and say pretty much the same thing.
Thursday’s game was an exercise in frustration. Josh Beckett was dealing but the Angels had a very few opportunities early on and couldn’t capitalize on them. Tyler Chatwood’s start was okay and would even be considered good if he hadn’t walked five batters, the last of which proved costly. The Angels could have scored more runs after Torii’s 7th inning homer tied the game up. Erick Aybar could have been content with a double. The bullpen could have kept us in the game. And the extra innings heroics could have worked out. The umpires also could have made better calls – not all of the close ones were bad. Dustin Pedroia was safe at home *resigned sigh*, but at third? Only if running five to six feet outside the base path to avoid the tag is suddenly Kosher. Oh well, that was the fourth run and didn’t matter. They would have won with three. Fans also could have been classy and not thrown money at Carl Crawford. Or, to sum it up another way, after the game, I decided that helping my husband snake the drain pipe for the washing machine was more enjoyable than watching the postgame show. But I still had high hopes for Friday when we would send Dan Haren to the mound…oh boy.
This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, gourmet for varying definitions of gourmet dinner and the Angels game) spread: triple mushroom risotto with pancetta accompanied by a bottle of Cypher Winery’s Peasant, a lovely take on a French field blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tannat and Counise that tastes like plums and black cherries with hints of nutmeg, vanilla and anise. Making risotto was a therapeutic decision. After the tense extra innings drama and unsatisfactory result of Thursday’s game, I was anxious in the hours leading up to this evening’s game and, trust me, spending half an hour stirring, stirring, ladling, stirring, carefully judging texture and stirring some more is oddly calming. And it turned out well, if I do say so myself. Which was good because, the way this evening’s game went, starting it anxious might have proved fatal for the throw pillows.
Dan Haren wasn’t dealing tonight, which is bound to happen from time to time, and the rest of the team wasn’t backing him up consistently. Not with run support and not with defense either: a Wells bobble, Peter Bourjos with one highlight reel play and one blooper reel play, a Mathis passed ball and not a bloody one of them capable of hitting with runners in scoring position until the 8th inning. Not exactly a recipe for success. Okay, the safe call on Saltalamacchia at third blew goats, as did several others, and then he scored the first Red Sox run on the next hit. Demoralizing? Yes. But that was not a reason to fall apart for two innings. Bad calls happen. That’s baseball. So get productively angry and get the next guys out.
And yet, we still almost pulled it off. Timely hits in the 7th and 8th innings, and an equally timely Saltalamacchia passed ball – darned nice of him, really, after that call at 3rd ;) – finally put the Angels on the board and brought us within one run of catching the Red Sox. Then, it was the ninth inning with you know who on the mound. Ugh. Hank Conger got a hit though. In a déjà vu moment, we had hopes that Howie Kendrick could stick it out through another battle and get a hit this time. Who knows what might have been if Paplebon hadn’t benefitted from such a generous strike call on the second pitch. Howie may well still have struck out…but he might not have. Oh well. Who knows what might have happened if the guys had settled down immediately after the botched call in the third, or if Bourjos made the catch instead of blowing it, or if Wells had made the other catch for that matter.
So, am I panicking or even particularly worried? No. It’s only two games. It’s April. They can’t win all 162 no matter how much I would like them to and even quality players will have bad days, sometimes all at once. Am I annoyed and kind of deflated feeling? Yes. I am tired of getting beaten by the Red Sox, especially when they are playing good baseball but hardly unbeatable baseball. We should have won this one. Oh well. At least the wine and risotto were good.
So, guys, can we go get ‘em the next two games? Yes, their pitching is tough but this is hardly an impossible request.
So the little bird we were counting on to fly in at the last minute and tell the Angels where the Rangers rumored jewel encrusted armor might have a crack or two (Psssst, it’s right over the heart…er…pitcher’s mound, a concept we should well understand.) was apparently delayed a day by bad weather. But, once that bird did arrive, ooooh boy. 15 hits. 15 runs. 12 RBIs. Nice. Almost too nice to be entertaining…almost. *grins*
So, about Monday. Even if the aforementioned bird had arrived, C.J. Wilson is definitely not the weak point in the armor I was talking about and he was pretty on. To make matters worse, it was not the good Ervin Santana who took the mound for the Angels. It’s not Scioscia’s fault. It’s so hard to tell until you get a few innings in. Both the good controlled Santana and the bad out of control Santana have dark goatees – in clear violation of the evil twin statutes in the Marvel accords, I might add. What’s a manager to do…other than, oh I don’t know, pull him a little earlier? I know, I know. Then we have to roll a D-10 to see if the Bullpen self destructs. In this particular game, however, the Bullpen did a fine job, especially Rich Thompson. It’s possible they might even have saved us if it weren’t for the bats. Not to take anything away from C.J. Wilson, who clearly pitched a great game, but it’s not like we can’t hit him. We were hitting him, in fact. Just not with runners in scoring position. 10 hits. 1 run. But, enough about that.
Cut to today and you have a completely different game. Matt Palmer had an excellent second start. If he keeps this up, I will have even less worries about the starting rotation once you get past Weaver and Haren. And the bats, especially the junior bats, were on fire. Mark Trumbo, Hank Conger and Peter Bourjos combined for nine of the 15 hits and two of the three homeruns. Trumbo had four RBIs! Conger rocked at the plate! And Bourjos? Yes, it was a single and an error not a real infield the park home run but how many other ballplayers could get all the way home on that error? A few, but not many. The sight of him tearing around second and then third? He is so fast that it looked like a special effect. Vernon Wells, Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis also continued their hitting streaks and our fielding was spot on. Of course, the Rangers also committed four uncharacteristic errors and pretty much crumpled after the fourth inning, which didn’t hurt matters any. In fact, it almost took the fun out the game…almost.
But about the kids? I’m extending my Chatwood plea to all of them. Can we keep them, Sosh? Please. They’re young. They won’t be much trouble. Can we, can we? Well, they’re all safe for the first round of returns from the DL, at any rate. Erick Aybar came off the DL this evening and I am pleased with the corresponding roster change. Brandon Wood has been designated for assignment. The assumption is that he won’t pass waivers and will cease to be an Angel sometime in the next three days. Wood seems like a nice kid. He’s got pretty good moves at short stop and I wish him well wherever he lands, but it’s time. It’s more than time. The Murphy’s Law corollary pertaining to baseball changes of scenery being what it is, expect Wood to become a 2011 batting champion runner up somewhere else, ha ha ha.
So, there you have it, two very uneven games. They killed us once, we killed them once and we’re still tied for first place…an unimportant April 19th 1st place, but still. Tomorrow, the rubber match, with our hero, Ace #1, Jered Weaver – as opposed to our hero, Ace #2 Dan Haren :) – appearing on the mound for the Angels. He will duel it out with Matt Harrison, a Nolan Ryan favorite and all around tough customer. Hopefully both teams really show up this time and make this the game it should be…with the Angels ultimately winning, of course. This could be a heck of a game.