Results tagged ‘ Jeff Mathis ’

Freeway Series Finale, What a Game It Very Nearly Was + My Thoughts on Umpire Calls

 

It was a glorious game, Sunday’s Freeway Series meeting between the Angels and the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Jered Weaver vs. Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers’ pregame show announcers joked that, with those two greats on the mound, it was a bad day to be a batter. And they knew what they were talking about. Both Weaver and Kershaw had a shutout going until the 7th inning.

Every now and then one would allow a runner on base, occasionally two. But it never got any farther than that. For six innings. Say all you want about lack of run support, and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve said plenty, but this was not a case of the batters not getting it done at the plate. This was a case of two aces baffling each other’s lineups with a good, old fashioned pitchers’ duel and it was fantastic. Beautiful. Frustrating. Nail biting. Cheering. Stomping. Yelling. Faan-tastic. The kind of game where I had to tip my hat to Kershaw as much as I was tipping it to Weaver. And I wished that Seth and I had bought last minutes tickets and gone running off to Chavez Ravine instead of responsibly watching the game at home for free, just so I could be there in person to soak in every nuance.

Even after both lineups finally briefly broke through the gems to knock in a run a piece in the 7th and the Angels ended the duel by pinch hitting for Weaver in the 8th, it was a great game. It was a great game, that is, right up until the call when Dee Gordon stole second. That’s right I said second. Long before the play at the plate that everyone is talking about, Gordon touched second base, overslid the bag, Erick Aybar clearly blocked him from returning and applied a tag. But Gordon was called safe. He shouldn’t even have been in a position to head home on the later sacrifice fly. But he was. And he did. Because that’s how you play the game. And then, he was out again at the plate. 

I have watched the replay more than 20 times on my DVR. Peter Bourjos’ throw could not have been more perfect. Jeff Mathis blocked the plate, wrestled Gordon practically into a bear hug, sweeping arms and legs away from the plate before Gordon could get so much as a finger in, and brushed Gordon’s back with the glove holding the ball. Mathis then triumphantly held up the ball for the umpire to see, allowing Gordon to break free finally and slap the plate. Three outs. Ball game. Angels win, right? Except not…now I’m not saying the umpire outright lost the game for us. At that point the Angels needed to buck up, get the third out (for the third time) and force the Dodgers into extra innings. And they didn’t do that. But the double bad calls really killed the greatness of this particular game. Who knows how it would have really ended if Gordon had been called out at second? Would Jordan Walden have continued his recovery or would the Dodgers have continued their rally? I don’t know. But whatever the outcome, I would have preferred that game to the one we all got. And considering the amazing pitchers’ duel and the quality of the first eight and a half innings, that is a very sad thing to have to say.

It’s baseball. Bad calls happen. They happen all the time. In huge egregious ways, like Armando Galarraga’s perfect game that wasn’t and any number of post season heartbreakers I could site. And in hundreds of smaller ways every week that may only matter to a particular batter or position player. By the end of the season, the bad calls usually even out. Heck, the Angels owe one of their wins against the Blue Jays in this season’s first home series to a truly terrible runner’s interference call that made the Blue Jays’ go ahead run null and void.

So where exactly am I going with this? In all honesty, I don’t know. I don’t want the game to change. I don’t want every umpire’s call second guessed and argued…on the field that is. We fans should continue to exercise our traditional right to beat every dead horse of a call into dust if it pleases us to do so. I don’t want to lose the pacing of the game or the spontaneity. I don’t want a cookie cutter feel to a trip to the ballpark. I don’t want umpires turning to computers to make every call, or even many calls. I don’t want baseball teams developing strategies around how to use a set number of umpire challenges in ways that go well beyond the goal of simply redressing a wrong. I don’t like the idea of increased instant replay eroding decision making.

So what do I actually want? I wanted this particular great game and so many others to remain great games. Angels win or lose, I wanted this game to proceed to its natural conclusion. And, yet, I realize that just saying I want umpires to make better calls is childish. They are only human, they have always been human, and rather than showing any increase in umpire errors, I believe that advancements in camera and television technology allow us even more opportunities to “appreciate” just how human and fallible they have always been. So, do I want MLB to increase the use of instant replay in regular season games? I don’t want to want it. And I don’t want it…yet. But year by year each game changing bad call chips away at the steadfastness of my resolve a little more… 

And now I am off the ballgame again. Angels vs. the Nationals. I’m sure I’ll post pictures later this week. The way things worked out between the games Seth and I always try to get tickets for (the freeway Series at both stadiums, 4th of July…), games we just sort of wound up with tickets for (this evening), and our upcoming Bay Area Baseball Extravaganza, our end of June and first half of July is practically an embarrassment of baseball game riches…and yet I wonder how many of them, indeed if any of them, will be as good as this game almost was.

The Angels Return to Sunny SoCal for Two More Wins + I Return to Dodger Stadium

The Angels returned home, in order to play three more away games up the 5 freeway against former stadium mates the Los Angeles Dodgers. So far the Angels have taken two of two and will try for the sweep with Jered Weaver on the mound on Sunday. We got tickets to Saturday’s game and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Dodger Stadium.

First, a brief re-cap of Friday. Friday’s game was an extremely odd affair with the Angels managing to win 8 to 3 despite six base running errors and a number of odd plays, including a questionable pick-off attempt by Jeff Mathis. Here Bullpen Coach Steve Soliz works with Mathis before Saturday’s game. Perhaps they are working on remedial throws in case Mathis is called in and needs to throw a runner out at second. Second, Jeff, second, not first. He may live that down by next season…or he may not. Though in all fairness the man had two stellar take downs at the plate on Friday too, which more than evens things out in Mathis’ favor for the game in my opinion:

Jeff Mathis warms up with Bullpen Coach Steve Soliz pregame. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Dan Haren shown in the Angels Dugout during the Saturday game. There were plenty of heroes to balance out the odd plays on Friday. Dan Haren (or the scruffy looking nerf herder as my husband calls Haren because my reaction the first time he said it was, apparently, priceless), for example, pitched a good game and went one for two at the plate with one RBI and a pretty sacrifice bunt that moved Mathis in position to score off Maicer’s hit:

Dan Haren, last night's winning pitcher, hangs out in the dugout behind catchers Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Saturday’s tickets were my hairdresser’s season seats. Her family has had these seats almost as long as the stadium has been in existence and she is gracious enough to share them with friends and clients from time to time…even Angels fan clients. Truly, they were excellent seats and we took advantage of the view to take some photos. Given my Dodger fan-family origins, I can’t help but feel waves and waves of nostalgia just walking into Dodger stadium. Memories of games we attended, places we sat and goofy things my sister and I said or did cling to the darndest nooks and crannies of the stadium. And can I just tell you how wierd it feels to walk through the stadium in opposing team colors. Still?!:

A view of the Dodger's stadium field from our seats. Not much has changed since I was a kid, except for the addition of a few rows of luxury seats that pinch in the old foul territory a little bit. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

A view of the Dodgers bullpen. When I was a child, my family frequently bought tickets for the second deck next to the bullpen so my sister and I could watch the pichers warmup. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

 

Dodgers Stadium. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

 
And, of course, I couldn’t come to Dodger Stadium without meeting Emma of Crzblue’s Dodger Blue World. I’m so glad she came down to see me. Emma is every bit as nice in person as she is on her blog and it was fun to chat with here through an inning, while we watched the game, of course:

Me and Emma of Crzblue's Dodger Blue World. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...(Seth)

Tyler Chatwood pitched a great game. He got into a few problems but was able to work his wait out of them, holding the Dodgers to one run over seven innings. Sadly Chatwood walked that one run in after loading up the bases, but that was in the 5th inning and he recovered sufficiently to pitch two additional scoreless innings:

Tyler Chatwood pitches to Dodgers rookie short stop Dee Gordon. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

One of the biggest things Chatwood was able to do with his pitches today was to keep the Dodgers dynamic one, two punch of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp off the bases. Chatwood helped keep Ethier 0 for 4 and Kemp 0 for 2. (Kemp was ejected from the game in the 5th inning):

Andre Ethier grounds out to first baseman Mark Trumbo. Pitcher Trevor Bell moves to backup the play. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...Matt Kemp grounds out on a Tyler Chatwood pitch. Hank Conger is behind the plate. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Chatwood takes a leadoff at first. But was “Big Bat” Chatwood content to confine his daring deeds to the mound? Of course not, this is interleague where, as our announcers are fond of saying, pitchers prove they are athletes too. With two outs, Chatwood hit a solid single into centerfield, temporarily maintaining his 1.000 batting average from the series against the Mets. Yes, this is somewhat tongue in cheek, but I am very American League and it tickles me to see our pitchers at the plate:

Tyler Chatwood leads off at first while James Loney moves into position. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Erick Aybar at bat in the 3rd. Chatwood’s single allowed him to score off of Aybar’s two-out third-inning triple:

Erick Aybar knocks Tyler Chatwood in with a triple in the 3rd. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Russel Branyan, Bench Coach Rob Picciolo, Dan Haren, Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos, Maicer Izturis, Pitching Coach Mike Butcher, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro rush to congratulate Tyler Chatwood, who can barely be seen among the throng, for scoring a run and maintaining his 1.000 BA. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Mark Trumbo takes a pitch before knocking the next one into the Dodgers’ bullpen. Trumbo had a busy, fruitful day defensively at first and hit a two-out homerun in the 4th inning, his 13th of this, his rookie season:

Pitching Coach Mike Butcher calls a meeting on the mound. Chatwood got himself into a spot of in the 5th, allowing two singles, then walking the bases loaded:

Angels meeting on the mound in the 5th with bases loaded. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Casey Blake takes a pitch. Immediately following the meeting on the mound, Chatwood walked in a run before facing pinch hitter Casey Blake. With brilliant catch from Howie Kendrick at second, Blake lined to  double pay:

Casey Blake takes a pitch in the 5th. Hank Conger catching. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Bobby Abreu at bat. Bobby and Howie walked in the 8th to set the table for Vernon Wells. Bobby was in right field today, which I prefer to left for him. He did a decent job, with one good catch and one missed catch that Torii would have made. I can’t wait for Torii to be back in the lineup!

Bobby Abreu at bat. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Vernon Wells crosses the plate after hitting a two-out, three-run homerun. Wells bat continues to heat up and I could not be more pleased to see it. This was his 8th homerun of the season:

Vernon Wells crosses the plate after hitting a three-run homerun in the 8th. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Tyler Chatwood, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Torii Hunter, Hank Conger and Ervin Santana congratulate Vernon Wells on his homerun. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Don Mattingly calls a Dodgers meeting on the mound. Following Wells’ homerun, Guerrier is pulled and the Dodgers move deeper into their bullpen.

Don Mattingly makes a pitching change in the 8th. Matt Guerrier is out and Hong-Chi Kuo is in. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Overall the Angels Bullpen was fantastic! Scott Downs locked them down in the 8th and Trevor Bell held them in the 9th:

Scott Downs takes the mound in the 8th. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Trevor Bell takes the mound in the 9th. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Jordan Walden warms up in the Dodgers visitor’s bullpen. After getting Ethier to ground out, Trevor Bell allowed a single and walked a batter. Even though it all turned out just fine – he got the next two out for and Angels victory – it was comforting to look across the diamond into the Dodger’s wonderfully old school visitor’s bullpen and see Jordan Walden warming up…you know, just in case. Right?

Jordan Walden warms up in the Dodger's visitor's bullpen in the 9th, just in case. Angels at Dodgers, June 25, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

 
It was a great stadium experience and an even better day. Everyone was so nice to us and we had a couple of great converations with the other fans in our section – Dodgers and Angels both. Leaving the game, it even smelled like victory…provided victory smells like sun block and overheated synthetic jersey material. :)

Four Corners, Angels, Mets, Marlins, Dodgers, Oh My! …Or, Not a Slow News Week

So let me get this straight. Tyler Chatwood is batting 1.000 (In addition to pitching a great game!). Jered Weaver is a beast even with precious little run support – six punch outs and 20 first pitch strikes on 28 batters! Torii Hunter is the run support – both RBIs on Monday were Torii! The bats are waking up, including Vernon Wells’ – he’s batting .292 with seven RBIs and three homeruns on this road trip so far! And Maicer Izturis is the Rally Monkey. Well, it sounds like everything is working out alright to me. 

The Angels’ Crazy Four Corners Interleague-ean Baseball Odyssey, Stop #3: Miami. Photo by This is a very simple game...

The Angels redeemed themselves against the Mets in game three and then, in their next stop on the Four Corners Road Trip, went on to win game one against the Marlins. Things seem to be falling back into place again in the sense that each component of the Angels’ game has been strong enough that some of the parts are able to take the slack for another part, when that part fails. No offense on Monday? Weaver’s pitching, the bullpen and the defense carried the day. Scary bullpen on Sunday? No problem. Again, starting pitching, this time Chatwood’s, and the offense, also including Chatwood not to mention Wells, Peter Bourjos, Jeff Mathis and several others – built up enough of a lead that it all worked out. Keep it up guys and we might have ourselves a pretty good streak going!

However, I was amused to look at headlines on MLB.com last night and discover that somehow, we may have beat the Marlins but somehow we also lost to the Braves last night:

Fun with captions...or...Wait a minute! I thought the Angels beat the Marlins last night. What gives?! Screenshot of the MLB.com headlines June 20, 2011.

Hmmmm…what exactly are they saying here? That Tim Hudson is so good, he single handedly beat the Blue Jays and a team the Braves weren’t even playing? Or is this a Freudian commentary on the Angels chronic lack of run support? The headline was corrected this morning, and possibly even moments after I noticed it. But notice it I did, and it was too funny to to share with you all…and now I sincerely hope MLB never takes a comedic look at the typos and crimes against commas I have committed on this blog, LOL.

Bud Selig Tells Frank McCourt “No” and “Bad Dog” and Rubs His Nose in it…So He Learns

Actually, as you all probably know, it went a bit beyond that. The deal with Fox that Bud Selig rejected yesterday was the last possible call from the governor that Frank McCourt had any hope of hearing. And even though it makes things a little rougher still for the Dodgers right now, I could not be happier. Selig, as quoted in the MLB.com article really said it best: Critically, the transaction is structured to facilitate the further diversion of Dodgers assets for the personal needs of Mr. McCourt. Given the magnitude of the transaction, such a diversion of assets would have the effect of mortgaging the future of the franchise to the long-term detriment of the club and its fans.

As a baseball fan, and as a lady who rooted passionately for the Dodgers in childhood, the last few seasons under the Mommy Dearest like affections of the McCourts have made me ill. The Dodgers are one of the most storied franchises in baseball and their fans are great people. I may give my friends and family good-natured crap and about leaving the game before the 8th inning, but Dodger fans are a passionate, knowledgeable, blue-bleeding bunch and they do not deserve the past few years’ treatment any more than the players do. The only hope the Dodgers have of full and lasting recovery from this particular abusive relationship, is if the McCourts are no longer in the picture.

So, citizens of Dodgertown, (hey, I get your emails and read your billboards from time to time) I tip my glass to you with the sincerest hopes that this is the beginning of much, much better things to come for you. Perhaps even eventual ownership by Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser, which is the rumor I most hope is true. My glass is full of coffee, mind you, because it’s the middle of the day and all that. But, really, it’s the thought that counts! I even wish you a long and fruitful winning streak…starting in about two weeks. ;)

Post Tuesday Game Edit:

Okay. Granted the Marlins had just lost 11 in a row. Rationally there were going to win one eventually. But why do I feel like the Angels are the slump buster team of the American League, temporarily on loan to the National League? Overreacting? Just a tad. Which is why I typically don’t post immediately following a game. We’ll get ‘em tomorrow. But still! Five to two? Shut out until the ninth inning? Really? Guys. When I talked about keeping it up and getting a streak going, this is pretty much the antithesis of what I was talking about…and by pretty much, I mean exactly.

Tuesday’s Angels Beat White Sox & Fans Rock Their Inner Strongbad

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Lit Halo - for blog.JPGYay, the lit Halo enveloped in a haze of fireworks returns to my blog, meaning the Angels won last night and I was there to see it! I was a little concerned after Monday. To re-cap: these May White Sox? They are not the April White Sox. They are actually the White Sox which means that if you make mistakes, they will make you pay. Unfortunately, Monday’s Angels were not the 2011 Angels, I swear they were some AA team that swiped our uniforms – which is bound to happen now and then over the course of a season…or, like, again tonight in the 8th inning. Wily AA teams. So, anyway, Monday poor Ervin Santana was dealing for an inning and then he just fell apart. Was he “inspired” by Alberto Callaspo’s poor running decision? By our complete inability to cash in on an amazing scoring opportunity in the second inning…or the fourth…or the…well, you get the general idea? The pitchers couldn’t keep the ball in the park, the batters couldn’t hit when it counted, there were a few questionable plays in the field, Jeff Mathis became a pinch hitter (?!?) and Vernon Wells left for the 15 Day DL with a pulled groin muscle. I think he may actually be on the DL longer than that. Watching the replay of the swing where he injured himself will make you cringe, especially if you yourself have ever known the “joy” of a pulled groin. In short, it was Not A Good Game.

But back to last night. It was still the May White Sox taking the field but, fortunately, I think the Angels went to bed angry last night because they showed up on a mission to redeem themselves. They started smacking the ball right away, took the lead in the first inning and never gave it up, though the White Sox threatened at times. It was A Great Game! And here are my photos to help take you all there with me.

For this game, Seth and I entered foul ball territory. This is my view of the field without any zoom, sitting immediately behind the blue sleeved lady in the front row. (Yes, the Angels’ Dodger fan siblings often come to visit when the Dodgers are out of town and we gladly return the favor. It’s a lot of fun living in a two team town – for large, dual county definitions of town.) And these seats were a better price than even our last seats. The moral of my story? Angels fans are a panicky lot, especially after last season. When the Red Sox sweep the Angels at home, go to a resale site and buy cheap tickets. It will ease your pain:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Field Seats - for blog.JPG

Howie Kendrick runs to second for an eventual double in the 3rd as Gordon Beckham waits for the throw from Juan Pierre. I have to say, of all the outfield permutations I thought of for the evening with Wells on the DL, Howie in Left was not one of them. But watching him move out there and knowing how much I like his glove and his arm, I think it could work – he looks good tonight! Left field was really quiet for most of the game however, so rather than a fascinating Howie just standing there shot, I give you this photo (taken by Seth) instead:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Howie Running to 2nd - for blog.JPG

Joel Pineiro stares down a runner at 2nd base as Callaspo (3rd base) switches into position. Pineiro had another excellent start, going 7 2/3 innings with five strike outs and one walk. And what he was throwing for strikes? Nice. He did give up one homerun, so the White Sox smacked some of the pretty off of his E.R.A. But it all worked out in the end and I am just glad to see Pineiro back on the mound and in the same great form he showed us last season…though I wish I could find the Angels Luchador Mask video ad he filmed with Santana somewhere online to share with you all. Pretty funny stuff:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Pineiro Staring Down LaPierre - for blog.JPG

Angels fans say, ‘Oh no, it’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.’ Because, of course, last night was also the much hyped Angels Luchador Mask night. This promotion had equal potential for being really stupid or a heck of a lot of fun and it was decidedly the latter. It didn’t tread on watching the game much, if at all – which would have annoyed me – and fans had a blast. We donned the so-silly-they’re-actually-pretty-darned-cool-looking-things at the top of the 5th for 10 minutes to set the record, though many wore them for most of the game. As the season progresses, I expect these masks to take on Rally Monkey-esque significance…or at least Angels Gnome-esque significance:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Masks - for blog.JPG

Some fans went all out for the occasion, donning actual Luchador regalia or, in the case of these two super Angels fans below, constructing entire Luchador costumes out of previous Angels giveaways. I thought they looked so creative and fantastic that we had to snap a photo. Well done guys!!:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Lucho Libres - larger for blog.JPG

Torii Hunter takes a strong swing. This at bat would turn into a single in the 5th. The Angels bats were nice and busy Tuesday night with 12 hits in all, including a homerun from Maicer Izturis…yes, Maicer. Whooo. Hooo:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Torii at Bat - for blog.JPG

Erick Aybar slides back into first to avoid a pickoff attempt as Paul Konerko catches the ball. Aybar is currently leading the team in stolen bases with 9. This thrills me to no end because it’s one more sign that the Angels are back to playing Angels baseball and all is once more right with my world:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Aybar pick off attempt - for blog.JPG

Aybar (short stop) and Mark Trumbo (first base) move with the pitch as A.J. Pierzynski, having doubled in the 7th, takes a lead off second base. Even if it was mostly so John Denks could get to Mathis, it was really funny to watch him pitch around Trumbo twice. It’s enough to give a lesser rookie a big head, I’m sure:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Aybar Trumbo Piersinsky - for blog.JPG

While Fernando Rodney warms up for the last out of the 8th inning, Peter Bourjos, Torii and Reggie Willits (replacing Howie in left) chat and stretch in centerfield. Could Peter and Reggie be trying to talk Torii into long socks? Reggie in left is another outfield permutation we’re likely to see a lot of while Wells is on the DL. I think this will work as a stop gap measure. I like his glove and his speed. I just hope we don’t see too steep a learning curve as Willits and Bourjos adapt to one another. I should also note that, although I cringed when I saw Rodney striding out from the Bullpen (but cheered him on robustly as he passed our seats), he did really well:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Willits Bourjos Torii - for blog.JPG

Scott Downs winds up while Callaspo moves into position. Downs took over the closer role for the evening as this was technically a non-close situation. He sure pitched like a closer though, sitting them down one, two, three. Well. Okay. Maybe that was more like one, twwwwooooo, three. Pierzynski, who was less impressed than I, fouled off many pitches before grounding out. A note on Callaspo. Everything I wrote in the offseason about our hole at third base? I am pleased to say I no longer think we have one. Whether it’s Maicer or Callaspo, I think third base is looking pretty darned good these days:

20110510 Angels vs WhSox - Downs Wind Up - for blog.JPG

And that was the game. I had an absolute blast. I wanted to come home and immediately buy tickets for the rubber match, or at least post these photos, but I had to finish my meeting prep for today instead. Then today was such that…well…I got home at 8 and am posting about game 2 as game 3 heads into unecessary extra innings and the bullpen is making me ill. I tell you, this working for a living thing…well, it beats the alternative with a caber sized stick, I can tell you that much, LOL!

Game 3 Edit/Addendum – Wednesday’s Angels, on the Other Hand:

Yuck! Did that just really happen? With the blown save and the self-destructing bullpen and the run. Scoring. On. An. Intentional. Walk. Wild. Pitch!? I realize it’s part of the necessary learning process but Jordan Walden needs to stop working on the change-up when it’s just not happening and the game is on the line. Ever since he started working on it, things have been…interesting, occasionally for Hoban Washburne definitions of interesting. He’ll get it down. I’m sure of it. But in the mean time? And Kevin Jepsen? Well, are we already back to last season’s two out of three rock but that third outing will kill you every time? Also, I do not like uber-specialized pitching to begin with, and I really do not like our very recent – as in, since Tampa Bay recent – moves to bring star relievers in for just one or two batters in an inning. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have either Scott Downs or Rich Thompson available later in the game?

Tyler Chatwood pitched well enough to win. It’s a pity the Bullpen decided to have an early April relapse. It’s just one game. It’s only the third series we’ve lost so far this season. And amateur hour is going to happen for the best of teams from time to time. I understand it. But I don’t like it and I really hope my 2011 Angels show up in Texas, not this strange AA team that occasionally puts on their uniforms.

Hmmm…maybe I should go check out those ticket prices online tomorrow morning.

The Red Sox Game – We Finished It Right!

Back to back wins. Now that is the way to end our season match-ups against the Red Sox! Wednesday night was downright magical. I am used to watching the Angels east coast games on delay, so it was a nice treat for me, if not for the players, to hear that the game was just resuming from a 2 and a half hour rain delay as I was turning off the freeway from my evening commute. So we got to watch a full game’s worth of innings live – that game went late! Then today, to catch snippets of the game on the radio and know that my tired Angels were apparently a lot less tired that the Red Sox with Pawtucket reinforcements? Well, that was even better.

Coming home to watch losses on Monday and Tuesday was just a downer. I wasn’t particularly down on the Angels season prospects, mind you. Outside of games involving teams from Boston (and Kansas City) they’ve been playing really well this season. But getting pummeled is always a downer, especially when you know the outcome could have been different.

These last two games though? Wow! Heads up plays. Stellar pitching. Bats, bats and more bats! Hey, this visiting team on the field? They looked suspiciously like my Angels! Way to go guys! Way to recover. And, Mr. Vernon Wells, I am glad to see you get your swagger back, sir, and deservedly so. Seriously, another home run over the monster. A couple of great plays against the monster. And I love the way he runs the bases when he’s on a roll. Just when I think he was a little too daring, he reaches the bag standing up or with an unhurried slide just ahead of the ball. Of course, when I talk about base running, I have to mention Peter Bourjos, who recovered nicely from two bad games and lit up the basepaths – and, apparenlty, Kevin Youkilis! – with his speed.

Torii’s hitting again, warming up with the summer weather as predicted – even though it was cold and wet in Boston. Heck, everyone was hitting these last two games, including Bobby Abreu with the game winning hit among others, and Mark Trumbo with another shot over the monster. I have to give love to the bullpen too, which more than rose to the occasion. I am starting to love seeing Scott Downs and Rich Thompson striding out to the mound. And Trevor Bell was lights out, shutting Boston down for the last four innings Wednesday. And the fielding! Did anyone else see the play at the plate? Perfect throws from Wells and Aybar to Jeff Mathis at the plate who positioned his feet and body so perfectly, that he rolled Marco Scutaro with the tag and brought his sliding feet to a halt against Mathis’s own feet three inches shy of the plate. And the way, Mathis then popped up instantaneously to stare Youkilis down at second. Chills. I have a major soft spot for catchers, as I may have mentioned in this blog a time or ten, so this was my favorite play of the series – absolutely gorgeous to watch.

So, do I think this means the Angels are past their troubles with the Red Sox and can play them on even footing from now on? Would that I could say yes, but I think the weird, uneven rivalry goes back too far for that. However, this is a great start. It leaves the team in the right mood going into their next home stand and sets the proper tone for all future encounters with the dreaded Red Sox – who I was amused to hear serenading Youkilis with Biz Markie’s Just a Friend at every at bat. Now that’s man-crushing open and unrestrained, and quirky to boot, and I have to admire them for that, even as the incongruity of it all amused me to no end.

Friday Gourmet, Wine & Angels: Yay! A Win for Ervin Santana

I was a little worried going into this series. Yes, the Rays started the season badly, but I knew that wasn’t going to continue. They have been hot, hot, hot lately – just ask the Twins – and David Prince was on the mound. But, even amid the concern, I just couldn’t imagine Ervin Santana going any longer without a win. Fortunately, that turned out to be the better instinct. Congratulations on your first win of the season, Ervin, and here’s to many more. You earned it and man were you due – see, the guys can show you love with run support too, especially when you don’t botch it with a bunch of walks. Whooo hoo!

This week’s Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) spread: Tapas, Tempranillo y beisbol. I was in a really good mood today and felt like playing in the kitchen, so we had quite the array of tapas to nibble on during the game – garlic sherry mushrooms; orange, rosemary and pimento marinated olives; bacon wrapped dates; costini with ricota, Spanish chorizo, arugula and a balsamic reduction; and oranges. Hey, it’s dinner for the rest of the weekend too and it succeeded in relaxing my husband who’s had a rough couple of weeks continuing to find a cubicle seat every time the music stops at work. The Tempranillo is from Paso Robles’ Bodega de Edgar, who specializes in Spanish varietals, thus securing the continuing affections of my wallet. And let me just say that it’s a good thing we have Pilates so early on Saturday, because I have Edgar’s Garancha and Albarino in the closet too and the way the game looked like it was going after those errors in the third inning, opening a few more bottles was starting to sound like a mighty fine idea.

Before and after the third inning bobbles though – two hands please Erick, two hands -things settled down into a great tight game with the Angels ultimately emerging victorious – my favorite kind. Santana pitched a good game – less walks, more Ks and quick outs. There was no keeping Ben Zobrist off of the base paths, but at least Santana held him to one hit and one walk with no RBIs. The Angels’ bats recovered nicely from their one day longer than necessary vacation. Almost everyone had multiple hits – Bobby Abreau, Torri Hunter, Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, Alberto Callaspo. Trumbo’s homerun was a monster, absolutely beautiful to see. Everyone else had a hit except Jeff Mathis – come on Jeff, we know you can hit. Pretend they’re all postseason games against the Yankees, please.

Howie and Trumbo, each playing their more natural position again, and Bourjos all had great defensive games. Wells made a great play at the end. Fernando Rodney, gave us all a heart attack when his first pitch turned into a BJ Upton homerun, but mostly settled down and got the three outs we needed with only one additional hit so, yay. Jordan Walden has recovered nicely from his last appearance in which he recieved his first blown save and loss. He earned his fourth save of the season this evening, allowing only one hit. Double yay!

Our pitchers are finally starting to come back from the DL! Scott Downs pitched one inning tonight almost up to his usual level after a nasty, persistent stomach virus – one K, one walk, no hits, not runs. Joel Pinero takes the mound for the first time this season tomorrow and I loved his interview this evening. He sounds excited by the feats of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and eager to get out there and see what he can contribute. Heck, I can’t wait for him to be fully up to his usual level. Best of luck to you tomorrow Joel! …and kindly wrap yourself in protective bubble wrap after the game. Thanks ever so. ;)

Friday Gourmet, Wine & Angels: Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. Yuck.

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.

Angels Mess With Texas and Prepare to Take On Boston + Musical Fan Quirks

Now that was a fun game. Jered Weaver pitched his first complete game of the season, allowing only one run and remains…you know…I think I’m just going to leave that sentence unfinished. You all understand. Anyway, it was a good game all around. Matt Harrison pitched through hitless innings until the Angels figured him out. And then? Howie Kendrick sent another one into the stands. He’s currently sharing the AL homerun leader’s spot in good company – in a three way tie with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Maicer Izturis continued his hitting streak. He is currently the AL batting average leader. Peter Bourjos hit a triple and made another highlight reel catch in centerfield just for good measure. Jeff Mathis got a hit.

Vernon Wells hit his first homerun in an Angels uniform with his dad at the stadium to see it. I imagine feeling like you have the chance to show off and make your folks proud doesn’t ever get old, even for a major league baseball player. It was touching to see the camaraderie in the dugout as the team first gave Wells the silent treatment – with barely suppressed grins and shaking shoulders – usually reserved for rookies and then mobbed him, all smiles and laughter, to extend their congratulations. I think that clubhouse chemistry is one of the more important intangibles and I am thrilled to see so much of it in the Angels this season.

And now? Ah, first place. Alone at last. ;) But, as we all know, it’s only April, there’s a lot of baseball left to play and here come the Red Sox. While I was never one of the folks who expected this Red Sox team to win 100 games, I certainly don’t expect them to stay well below .500 for the season either. They are a much better team than their initial play indicated and have extra incentive to prove it as soon as possible. There’s a lot of history between the Red Sox and the Angels and it usually inspires both teams to…well…to put a polite spin on things, to play just that much harder. I am nervous and excited for this series and set to watch a couple of great match-ups starting this evening when young Tyler Chatwood goes head to head with Josh Beckett.

I have already removed the Dropkick Murpheys CD from my car for what will probably be the rest of the month in anticipation. Yes, this is my “superstitious” fan quirk. I don’t have a lucky shirt. I don’t have specific things I eat before or during games. But I can’t bring myself to listen to music closely associated with a certain teams while we’re playing that team. It’s not really a superstitious thing. I don’t think the Angels will lose if I slip in the odd Fields of Athenry here or there when the Red Sox are in town. It just feels really disloyal. Even though I have preferred my punk to come with bagpipes since long before Papelbon went Shipping Up to Boston. So, cue the Train and let’s play ball.

Angels Weekend: Of Brooms, a Youth Uprising & the AL Central

It was quite the busy weekend at my house. In addition to the usual Pilates class and errands, we made pickled red onions, scoured the house, rearranged the furniture upstairs and did a lot of sweeping…oh, yeah, wait. That last part? That wasn’t Seth and I. That was the Angels!! ;)

Sorry for the brief bragging indulgence but, did you see us play last season? I think we can all agree, I’m due. So, suffice to say, it was a good weekend. Tyler Chatwood? I was a little apprehensive about his second major league start, especially when he’s definitely pitching to contact and the While Sox can hit. But, wow, can the kid pitch! And what confidence and poise on the mound. If he starts getting hit, he regroups, recovers and moves on. Can we keep him Sosh? Pleeeeeease. Can we? Can we?!

Another weekend revelation? Hel-lo Hank Conger. After Spring Training, Conger stayed on the 25-man roster primarily because of the large number of Angels on the DL. Everyone has been referring to him as the Angels third catcher, the assumption being that when a few of the regular players come off the DL, Hank will go back to the Bees, leaving Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson to duke it out for the primary catcher’s spot. Hank, however, has seized this brief opportunity with both hands in a death grip and sprinted with it. Seriously, each appearance has been better than the last. The pitchers seem to love him. He calls a good game. He catches guys stealing. He caught Juan Pierre stealing. That’s not easy. And he’s hitting and seems a little stronger with each plate appearance. I think it’s time to stop calling the kid the third catcher. I think it’s time to just call the kid the catcher. Let Mathis and Wilson duke it out over who gets to stay up when everyone comes back off the DL…except this is Mike Scioscia’s Angels, so all three may very well wind up staying up. I’m rolling my eyes right now, but it’s with affection.

Other high points? Dan Haren is now 4 and 0. Like Jered Weaver, he didn’t have his best start and now has an E.R.A. over 1 but, also like Weaver, not his best start is still pretty darned good and was good enough for the W. Maicer Izturis had a very hot bat. Mark Trumbo is a beast at the plate and is getting darned good at pulling off a tag out of nowhere at first, which is good because the rain wet ball wasn’t exactly helping with those throws to first. I. Love. Our. Outfield. Have I mentioned that before? Vernon Wells is continuing to gain momentum at the plate and in left field. The bullpen did really well. Jordan Walden almost blew his first save in spectacular fashion but this kid has a closer’s ice water in his veins. He loaded up the bases, then settled down and got the outs he needed without flinching. I wish I could say the same. I flinched, twitched, paced around the room, swore a blue streak and generally was not a pretty sight until he calmed down and got that last out. But as long as he doesn’t make a habit of getting himself into a jam in the first place, it’s nice to know that Walden can get himself out of a jam.

The Angels had a great weekend and Texas got beaten up by the Yankees so now we’re tied for first. Tied. For. First! Yes, it’s April 17th. I realize that standings at this point mean absolutely nothing. First place and a couple of bucks still won’t buy you a grande latte at Starbucks – those suckers cost $3.50. But after every major sports publication picked the Angels to finish in third place, well out of second, being tied for first with the red hot Texas Rangers feels pretty darned sweet right now. *toasts the Angels with a glass of Malbec* Oooookaaaay. I was going to drink that anyway. It went with dinner, gorgeously in fact. But it tastes just that much better after being raised in honor of the Angels.

Starting Monday, the Angels face the aforementioned red hot Texas Rangers. The red hot AL Champion Texas Rangers. I’m a little nervous. I’m a little excited. Well see how it goes. They’re tough. Really tough. But here’s the thing. We beat them a few times last year when the Angels were far, far from their best and the Rangers were still red hot. So…can we beat them? Yes. It sure won’t be easy, but I believe we can. Will we beat them? I sure hope so, but it’s far from a given, and we’re heading into the bottom of our starting rotation, though Ervin Santana has certainly had some success against Texas. You have to play the games to find these things out, fortunately, because I already know where we stand on paper. I don’t think this series is truly make it or break it time for the Angels. Again, its only April. But this series is an important test even so. Go Halos!!

A Tale of Two Wins – Angels vs. Blue Jays

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

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

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

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

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

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