In the ninth inning of Thursday night’s 4-3 win in Boston, as significant a victory as the Angels have produced this season in some respects, three September call-ups were on the field in support of Kevin Jepsen and Brian Fuentes – including the man calling the pitches, Bobby Wilson.
Reggie Willits was in left field, where Juan Rivera had opened the game, and Terry Evans was in right, which had been occupied by Gary Matthews Jr.
Willits dropped a perfect bunt to set up the winning run in the top of the ninth, scored by Evans as a pinch-runner, and Evans squeezed the final out.
Wilson blocked a few balls that could have been trouble and once again handled himself with confidence and poise at the most difficult position on the field.
“That’s big for guys like us,” said Evans, a graceful athletic with a lean but muscular frame, “to know they have the confidence to put us out there in a situation like that, a big game on the line. It gives us confidence, as well. It’s huge.”
Evans had another big year at Triple-A Salt Lake alongside Willits and Wilson, as well as Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Freddy Sandoval, Chris Pettit and the rest of the Bees’ formidable lineup. Evans, Wilson and Wood are out of options, meaning they’ll either be with the Angels next season or available to other clubs unless they’re included in deals.
“Anything we can do to contribute, we’re happy,” Evans said. “It can be the smallest thing. For us, that’s our role here. We have such a great lineup, we know what our roles are. And it’s exciting to get a chance to make any kind of contribution.”
Evans and Pettit have been used as pinch-runners late in games, freeing Willits for a role he is beginning to master: dropping a sacrifice bunt in conditions far more difficult than any casual fan would realize.
“It’s something he’s been great at, and it helps if they can hold him back for those spots,” Evans said. “Chris can run, and Freddy can run a little bit too. Reggie can do so many things, he’s a good guy to have around late in games. Plus, with Bobby catching, they can save [Mike] Napoli for pinch-hitting situations.”
Wilson has caught 11 innings this season, his pitchers yielding two earned runs. He made a game-saving, ninth-inning save of a ball in the dirt in Oakland when John Lackey (nine innings) and Fuentes combined for a 1-0 shutout in 10 innings.
Wilson was sent to Salt Lake after that Aug. 4 game, making it a bittersweet day.
“I love it any time I put on the gear and get a chance to play,” Wilson said. “We all want to be in there, and it was great that Terry, Reggie and I were all on the field together.”
“Especially,” a grinning Willits said, his bunt having set up Howard Kendrick’s game-winning single, “when we win.”
Evans had gone in to run for Rivera after his leadoff walk against Red Sox lefty Billy Wagner.
“With more bench strength, especially pinch-running,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “it’s a way to infuse some speed into a situation. The baseball experience of the Major Leagues, cutting their baby teeth, is a big step for these younger players. September is important.”
On a gorgeous Sunday in Tempe, the mind wanders briefly, and here is what settles in: A massive deal involving the Angels and Padres.
Ten for two.
From Anaheim to San Diego go the following: Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux, Kevin Jepsen, Erick Aybar, Freddy Sandoval, Matt Brown, Kendry Morales, Reggie Willits and Terry Evans.
From San Diego to Anaheim: Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez.
The Padres get a new team, virtually, and the Angels have a powerhouse that causes tremors throughout the game.
Bud Black adds three starters (Moseley, Adenhart, Loux) while subtracing one. He gets a future closer in Jepsen. He gets a superlative shortstop in Aybar and a kid from Tijuana (Sandoval) who can play three infield positions and hit. He gets a quality corner infielder in Brown and a first baseman in Morales to replace Gonzalez. He gets an outfielder (Willits) who can play all three spots and will produce a 370-.380 on-base percentage and 40-50 steals leading off as an everyday player. And he gets a power hitter in Evans who can leave any yard.
Mike Scioscia gets one of the best pitchers alive in Peavy and a first baseman in Gonzalez who is very close to the equal of Mark Teixeira. The Angels still have plenty of quality reserves left over, owing to an astonishing stockpile of talent. Yes, they add payroll with Peavy and Gonzalez, but the long-term benefits are immense.
The Padres get almost 60 years worth of contracts at an immediate cost of roughly $4 million for the 2008 season. The Angels have Peavy and Gonzalez locked up for at least three more years apiece. This would not be a half-season of Teixeira.
Peavy gives the Angels the Majors’ dominant rotation; Gonzalez is a No. 4 hitter who, free of PETCO Parks dimensions, hits about 40 homers and drives in close to 140 runs behind Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero.
Win, win. Everybody wins, once Padres fans realize that even with fan favorites Peavy and Gonzalez, they are looking at potentially a long, long season. Guys like Aybar, Willits, Morales, Adenhart and Jepsen would form a solid foundation for years to come.
Granted, there’s not much likelihood something like this would come to pass. But hey, a guy can daydream, can’t he? Isn’t that what Spring Training is all about?
Having gone hitless with a walk in his first two games in red, Bobby Abreu didn’t waste any time banging his first hit in an Angels uniform on Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Facing Rockies southpaw Greg Smith, part of the deal that made Matt Holliday a member of the Athletics, Abreu smoked a line drive over the head of right fielder Matt Murton for a double in the bottom of the first inning. Hainley Statia, who’d walked leading off, scored on Freddy Sandoval’s sacrifice fly.
In the top of the second, Abreu had his first misadventure in left field. A fly ball by Clint Barmes got up in the sun and Abreu couldn’t find it, letting it fall for a triple. But Fernando Rodriguez, replacing Sean O’Sullivan after a two-run Colorado first, struck out two hitters to escape without yielding a run.
Abreu made it two doubles in two innings when he hit a sinking liner in front of Murton that kicked away from him far enough to allow Abreu — always an aggressive baserunner — to scoot into second.
A double as his first Angels hit was fitting for Abreu, who has had 35 or more doubles every season since 1999, his second full season in the Majors with the Phillies.
Following a walk to Mike Napoli, Sean Rodriguez showed off his pop with a double off the wall in left, driving home Abreu and tying the game at 2.
Rodriguez, a superb athlete with big-time power to right center, has been working out at second and short exclusively so far this spring. But he is a natural center fielder who would love to expand his versatility by getting some time in the outfield. A catcher as a kid, he also feels he could fill in behind the plate in an emergency.
It’s a nice problem to have, of course, but you have to wonder what it’s like to be Matt Brown, looking around the Angels’ clubhouse, wondering where you fit.
You were a star on the bronze medal-winning Team USA outfit in the Beijing Games last summer. You crushed the ball at Triple-A Salt Lake — again. You added some versatility, learning how to play first base. No less an authority than Reggie Smith, Team USA’s hitting coach, touted you as a Major League talent — and Reggie is not a man to throw praise around randomly.
You know you can play, and yet you wonder where, and how it can happen. Chone Figgins is at third, your natural position, and behind him is Brandon Wood. One of Wood’s teammates coming up through the farm system with him assured me that this guy “will just blow up if he ever gets a chance to play every day.” So, if you’re Matt Brown, 26 and waiting for your time, you wonder if it will ever come.
Kendry Morales has been given first base, and the guy can rake. Behind him is Robb Quinlan, who has a .285 career average in the Majors and must also wonder where he’ll fit in as a role player yet again. Matt Brown: third at third, third at first.
There are others who work out every day, preparing for a long season, and leave camp every afternoon wondering what’s in store. Reggie Willits, for example. He was fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, a major contributor to the Angels’ success, and he’s sixth in line for a outfield job. Depth is a great thing if you’re a manager or a GM, but if you’re an athlete burning to play at the highest level, convinced you can make good things happen, and have names on top of yours on the depth chart . . . you sit and wait. And wonder.
Too many good players. A nice problem for Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia and Tony Reagins, but not such a great thing if you’re Matt Brown, Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Freddy Sandoval, Terry Evans and all the others on the outside looking in.