There are so many things to respect and admire about the Angels. Here are some that leap to mind in the afterglow of one of the franchise’s greatest triumphs:
The tireless commitment of Torii Hunter, who represents every day, in every way. A guy couldn’t have a better teammate. When you play with Torii, you know he’s got your back, without hesitation, no questions asked.
The quiet assurance and endearing presence of Bobby Abreu, who walked into a new room and won it over from day one with his style, elegance, humor and wisdom. I had no idea he was this good a player and this brand of leader. If the Angels can’t keep him, they’ll be losing much more than hits, walks, RBIs, runs and steals. They’ll be losing a whole lot of class.
The unique greatness of Vladimir Guerrero. He seems oddly undervalued and underappreciated in this era where so much value is attached to working counts. Sure, he takes some wild swings. But he has been one of the most feared and productive hitters of this or any era, and it was so sweet to see him deliver at the big moment on Sunday – right after Abreu, a clutch hitter with few peers, came through.
The astounding athleticism of Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar on the left side of the infield. It doesn’t get any better than this. Figgins and Aybar have more range and stronger arms than any left-side combo in the past 35 years.
That’s how long I’ve been covering the sport – too long, some would say – and I’ve never seen a better third-base coach than Dino Ebel. He does his homework, knows every outfield arm in the game, stays on top of every possibility and rarely makes a bad decision.
The way Figgins keeps improving, simply by being so dedicated. He is totally immersed in the game, driven to succeed. He struggled finding hits against the Red Sox – Jacoby Ellsbury robbed him of what would have been an inside-the-park homer – but Figgy worked a huge walk against Jonathan Papelbon during the big rally and has a history of delivering in New York. As with Abreu, Figgins’ many gifts would be hard to replace as he ventures into free agency.
Jered Weaver’s emergence as a sturdy, dependable top-of-the-rotation starter, smart, resourceful and – most of all – extremely tough under duress. He learned his lessons well from John Lackey, his mentor.
Lackey’s true grit.
The style and competitive natures of lefties Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir. Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 from Tampa Bay made this team complete. He’s a keeper.
The very real and productive mutual respect catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli continue to display. In another environment, this could be a toxic situation, but these guys have been so close for so long, nothing could pull them apart – not even competition over who catches which pitcher and how often.
Along those same lines, the way Maicer Izturis and Howard Kendrick have handled their second-base platoon with such uncommon grace. Both are everyday players and know it, but they’ve created not a single ripple of discontent over sharing a job.
Kendry Morales’ intelligence. By wisely taking advice from his elders (Abreu, Mickey Hatcher) and controlling his aggression, he turned all that potential into production and accomplished the impossible in making fans get over Mark Teixeira’s loss.
Young relievers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen holding up under a heavy workload and holding it together in front of Brian Fuentes.
Fuentes: 50 saves. How can you not appreciate that? He might not be a prototypical closer with premium gas, but the guy gets outs, and that’s the whole idea, right?
The strength and consistency of Juan Rivera, a rock-solid left fielder, and the manner in which Gary Matthews Jr. handled his very difficult role – and came through repeatedly in the clutch.
The enduring cool of Darren Oliver. Nothing rattles this guy. A pro’s pro.
The way Ervin Santana retained his humor while searching for the right stuff to come back after elbow issues made for some long nights.
The big, good-natured manner of Matt Palmer, who came out of nowhere to deliver much-needed innings and wins and went so respectfully to the bullpen, embracing any role handed him. Nobody appreciates wearing a big-league uniform more than this guy.
The willingness of Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson to do whatever is needed to bring their team closer to a win. Even if it’s not something that will show up in a boxscore.
Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley, Kelvim Escobar and Justin Speier, who did their part until they parted, and and all the young pitchers who helped stitch this crazy-quilt pitching staff together over the long haul.
The inner strength of Mike Scioscia, who navigated the most turbulent of waters this season with remarkable calm. Manager of the Year, no doubt. Manager of the Decade? Absolutely.
The dedication of coaches Hatcher, Ron Roenicke, Mike Butcher, Alfredo Griffin, Ebel, Orlando Mercado and Steve Soliz. Wise is the manager who surrounds himself with strong, independent thinkers willing to put in long hours for the greater good.
The way everyone mourned respectfully and continually honored the memory of Nick Adenhart, one of the best and brightest, gone much, much too soon.
Justin Speier, the Angels’ veteran right-handed reliever, has been handed his unconditional release to make room on the 25-man roster for Trevor Bell, the 22-year-old right-hander who makes his Major League debut on Wednesday against the Rays.
Speier, signed to a free agent contract with the Angels after the 2006 season, was 4-2 with a 5.18 ERA this season in 41 appearances. He pitched 40 innings, yielding 44 hits and 15 walks while striking out 39 batters. Opponents had a .277 batting average against him.
“It probably caught him off guard,” Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. “It’s emotional. There was nothing but professionalism in the way he took it on short notice. He has sincere passion for this organization, and the feelings are mutual.
“You always hope a player continues his career and gets an opportunity. We know he wants to continue to pitch. He’s going to take a breather.”
Speier, 35, is the son of long-time Major League shortstop Chris Speier, now a coach on manager Dusty Baker’s staff in Cincinnati.
Speier began his Major League career in 1998 after he was taken in the 55th round of the 1995 First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs. He pitched for the Marlins, Braves, Indians, Rockies and Blue Jays before joining the Angels.
He’s 35-33 in his career in 613 Major League appearances.
“We felt from a baseball standpoint this decision at this time was the right decision to make,” Reagins said. “It’s something we’ve talked about for several days. It’s always a difficult decision when you have to go this route.
“From a baseball standpoint, it was something we felt that had to be done to allow us to do some other things.”
Bell gives the Angels two rookie starting pitchers, joining Sean O’Sullivan, with Joe Saunders on the disabled list. Middle relievers Matt Palmer and Shane Loux also are candidates to join the rotation, having had some success in that role.
In the absence of Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo — the two set-up artists most responsible for getting the ball to Francisco Rodriguez for 69 save opportunities last season — the Angels suddenly are getting some consistent production.
Veterans Justin Speier and Darren Oliver and right-handers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen have been solid in the seventh and eighth innings during the Angels’ recent run of high-caliber play, primarily against a National League West that the record shows has been the best of the NL’s three divisions this season.
Bulger, who worked two scoreless innings to wrap up Friday night’s 12-3 decision over the D-backs, has had 20 clean outings — giving up no runs — in his past 23 appearances. The D-backs first-round pick in 2001, Bulger is putting it together this season, finding consistency with his fastball command and his big curveball with an occasional changeup helping keep hitters off balance.
Bulger’s ERA is 4.78 — not where he’d like it to be — but that is mainly a reflection of three grand slams he has yielded. Right-handers are batting only .207 against him.
Speier has shaved his ERA to a more respectable 4.33 by yielding only three earned runs across his past 16 innings (1.69). With 19 of his past 25 outings clean, he has stranded seven of eight inherited runners. That’s always a good way to enhance your popularity among teammates.
Oliver, as cool as any pitcher in the game, owns a 3.09 ERA after his scoreless inning on Friday night. Going back to last season, the classy lefty has kept the opposition scoreless in 41 of 52 appearances.
Jepsen, who lost his rhythm while experiencing back issues early in the season, appears to be back in a nice groove, with five of his past seven appearances scoreless. It will take him several months to get his 11.81 ERA down to a respectable level, but he appears to be moving in that direction.
Hoping to find consistent form are Rich Thompson and Rafael Rodriguez, a pair of talented right-handers. The stuff is excellent. It’s just a matter of putting it together.
Scot Shields, one of the Majors’ best and most durable relievers, will have surgery on Tuesday to repair patellar tendinitis in his left knee. According to manager Mike Scioscia, Shields is lost for the season.
The Angels will go with a comittee for now to replace Shields in the eighth inning, featuring Darren Oliver, Kevin Jepsen, Justin Speier and Jason Bulger. Kelvim Escobar hopes to join the mix soon and could emerge as the eighth-inning specialist in front of Brian Fuentes if his shoulder holds up to the stress. Escobar threw 92 pitches in his comeback start in Detroit and found that he experiences pain after about 75 pitches, forcing his move to the bullpen.
So here’s the deal: Josh Beckett comes up and in on Bobby Abreu after time is called by the home-plate umpire, Paul Schreiber, and the upshot is the Angels lose their Gold Glove center fielder, their manager, their hitting coach and a middle reliever.
The Red Sox? They lose nobody, nothing.
This is how if often goes in sports. It’s the player/team that responds or retaliates that usually suffers the consequences.
The Angels lost Torii Hunter, Mike Scisocia, Mickey Hatcher and Justin Speier after the benches cleared. Order appeared restored before Beckett had words with Scioscia, and that’s what incited a second incident that led to all the Angels’ ejections.
I am aware of no history between Beckett and Abreu dating to their days as Red Sox-Yankees rivals. Abreu hasn’t done much against the ace over the years — .210 coming into the game with two homers and five RBIs. But Abreu did deliver a big hit, a two-run single, that gave the Angels a 3-2 lead in the third inning.
The best Angels hitter against Beckett has been Hunter, a .455 average with a double and two RBIs in 11 career at-bats. Gary Matthews Jr., who replaced Hunter, was 2-for-15 against Beckett (.133) coming into the game.
Matthews, who unleashed a spectacular throw to first from left center, only to watch Kendry Morales drop a shot at a double play in the top of the third, grounded out in his first two at-bats against Beckett. Morales’ misplay didn’t cost the Angels. Dustin Moseley got the next hitter, Dustin Pedroia, to bounce into a double play.