Torii Hunter always knows when he’s in Boston’s glorious old ballpark. His left ankle lets him know.
“Every time I come here,” Hunter said before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, “my ankle hurts. It remembers this place.”
What his ankle recalls is a terrible accident in the triangle in right center on July 29, 2005. Pursuing a long drive by his former Twins teammate and good buddy David Ortiz, Hunter got his ankle caught in the wall. The ankle was fractured, causing him immense pain and costing him the final two months of the season.
“It was nasty, man, really bad,” Hunter said.
The ugly incident came to his mind on Monday night when the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove center fielder lost his left shoe trying to stab a drive by the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira – it’s something about former teammates and friends – at Yankee Stadium.
After the game, Hunter jokingly referred to himself as “Shoeless Torii.” But he understood how fortunate he’d been to shed the cleat on impact.
“It’s a good thing the shoe stuck in the padding and came off,” Hunter said. “If it had stayed on, the way my foot hit the wall . . . I don’t even want to think about what might have happened.”
That painful incident remains clear in his head, but it hasn’t all been bad for Hunter in Beantown. He actually has hit extremely well in Fenway Park: .327 for his career with eight homers in 220 at-bats, .361 last season with three homers in 36 at-bats.
Hunter also delivered handsomely in his biggest at-bat of his first season with the Angels. It was his dramatic two-out, two-run single against Justin Masterson in the eighth inning that brought the Angels even in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Teixeira and Vladimir Guerrero scored on Hunter’s bullet, his third hit in 10 at-bats at Fenway in the series.
The Red Sox rocked the Angels with a run in the bottom of the ninth, claiming a 3-2 triumph that arranged an AL Championship Series showdown with the Rays.
The season over, Hunter found no solace in his own performance, batting .389 for the series to lift his career postseason average to .316 (along with a .510 slugging percentage) in 25 playoff games.
“I really thought we were going all the way,” he said that night, despair everywhere in the ancient clubhouse.
With renewed hope in the air, the Angels are back at Fenway. There’s a strong chance they’ll revisit the yard next month, once again as AL West champions facing the Wild Card Sox in Games 3 and 4, if necessary, of the ALDS.
Hunter, who has arrived as a rare six-tool player this season with his immensely popular blog on MLB.com, can’t wait for the big date, if it’s in the stars.
Here’s a guy who can hit for average, for power, run, field, throw – and write.
“Read all about it,” Hunter said, beaming.
Brad Penny clearly would have value to the Angels if he clears waivers on Saturday when the 72-hour window for released players closes. The veteran right-hander was handed his release by the Red Sox on Thursday to open roster space for reliever Billy Wagner, acquired from the Mets in a waiver deal.
Penny, 31, signed a $5 million free-agent deal with the Red Sox, but he will not reach any of the bonus incentives for innings pitched. He was 7-8 in 24 starts and 131 2/3 innings for Boston with a 5.61 ERA. His bonuses in $500,000 increments were to kick in with 160 innings pitched.
Penny’s performance this season was a far cry from the back-to-back 16-win seasons he delivered for the Dodgers in 2006 and 2007. He started the ’06 All-Star Game for the National League in Pittsburgh – yielding a mammoth homer to Vladimir Guerrero – and was third in the ’07 NL Cy Young Award balloting after going 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA.
Eleven American League clubs would have a shot at claiming Penny before the Angels, whose record is surpassed only by the Yankees. With less than a quarter of the season remaining, he’d amount to a bargain-basement pickup at less than $100,000 with the Major League minimum at $400,000.
With the Angels going with young Trevor Bell in the fifth spot in the rotation, Penny would be a natural fit for the estimated six starts remaining. He’d have to sign by Monday to be eligible for a postseason roster spot, unless an injury opens space.
Penny certainly showed in 2003 with the Marlins that he didn’t mind postseason pressure, twice beating the Yankees in the World Series with a 2.13 ERA in his two outings.
Penny requested his release on Wednesday night.
“Because we ended up letting him go, our feelings don’t change about him personally,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “We really appreciated the way Brad went about his business. He was a good teammate, and he worked hard. We’re always pretty honest about the fact that we do what’s in the best interest of the organization and the team, and we try to tell the players that.”
The Angels overrate their prospects. If that’s what you’re hearing or reading in the wake of their inability to swing a non-waiver Trade Deadline deal for a four-star pitcher, you don’t necessarily have to buy it.
I mean, seriously, how do you overrate prospects who have helped you win more games over the past 4 ½ seasons than any other team in Major League Baseball? That doesn’t make much sense.
You’d think lesser clubs would want to latch onto some of those kids who have helped drive manager Mike Scioscia’s troupe to 438 wins, heading into this six-game road trip, against 309 losses since the start of the 2005 season. Next best: Yankees, at 436-313, then the Red Sox, at 429-318.
Not bad, as company goes.
You’d think clubs languishing on the fringes of contention would welcome the opportunity to import some of this talent from an organization that plays aggressive, exciting, winning baseball from rookie ball on up.
Without full knowledge of what was offered and what was rejected, my sense is the Angels put together some very fair proposals – particularly for Roy Halladay and Heath Bell – and, for whatever reason, were simply rejected.
Maybe Toronto didn’t really want to part with Halladay. Maybe San Diego couldn’t live without Bell, when it was all said and done. I don’t know. But I have been around Angels players now long enough, organization-wide, to appreciate their skill, intelligence and will.
If Erick Aybar was a deal-breaker with Toronto, I’m good with that. He’s on his way to greatness, and Angels fans will be dazzled by his many gifts for years to come.
This whole business of desperately needing No. 1 starters to win in the postseason is an urban myth. If you’re looking for something that’s overrated, here it is. I don’t recall the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati needing a hand full of aces.
The Angels didn’t have a No. 1 in the classic mold in 2002. The Athletics had three legit No. 1s – Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson – that season and couldn’t win a postseason series. The Braves had three certified No. 1s – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — for a full decade. They claimed one Fall Classic.
Dominant starting pitching is great, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a be-all, cure-all, end-all. It guarantees nothing.
Here’s what matters in October: momentum. Positive, upbeat, driving momentum generated by quality play, good pitching and a dash of good fortune here and there.
It looks wide open this season, from this laptop. The Angels have a shot at going all the way if things fall into place. They’re due for a break or two in October.
Halladay absolutely would have been a terrific addition. But not at the cost of the heart of your club.
As for Bell, he’s a shiny Cadillac parked in a dark garage. Would he have helped the Angels? Sure. But they might end up getting more production out of the players the Padres didn’t seem to want.
Who knows? Crazy stuff happens all the time. It’s baseball. Nobody is nearly as smart as he or she claims to be.
The word is out that the Blue Jays are listening to proposals for Roy Halladay, who has few peers among starting pitchers. No team values starters more highly than the Angels. They have made inquiries, knowing how much Halladay’s talent and endurance would mean in a rotation that has been patched together all season as a result of injuries and tragedy in the form of the death of Nick Adenhart.
The obvious question is this: How high can, or would, they go to import a dominant starter at the top of his game, signed through next season? He’s making $14.25 million this season, $15.75 next year.
The Blue Jays reportedly would want a quality shortstop — the Angels are loaded there — and young pitching talent in exchange for a man who gives you seven to nine innings of high-level work every fifth day.
Probably the only commodity the Angels value as highly as starting pitching is young talent, and therein lines the rub.
Staying healthy for the first time, Erick Aybar has established himself this season as one of the premier young shortstops in the game. He could be featured in an attractive package. If the Blue Jays prefer power, Brandon Wood is one of the elite young mashers in the game, just waiting for his opportunity in Triple-A Salt Lake to show he’s the real deal.
The Angels are rich in young talent. They have youthful pitching (Sean O’Sullivan, Jordan Walden, Trevor Reckling, among others) that would have to appeal to Toronto. It’s conceivable but unlikely they would consider moving one of their established starters — Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders, most likely — in a Halladay deal.
The Jays are in a position of strength and don’t have to do anything. But they’re in a top-heavy division, chasing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, and as great as Halladay is, it’s highly doubtful Toronto can put together a surge to catch them.
The Phillies are seen as the leading candidates to land Halladay, if he is moved. They have the youthful talent to get it done and clearly are in need of a front-line starter. The level of the Angels’ need is not as high as Philadelphia’s, but as they showed last July with Mark Teixeira, they’re not averse to making the big, bold move.
The Angels have a lot of decisions to make this winter, with Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Kelvim Escobar, Robb Quinlan and Darren Oliver all eligible for free agency. Taking on Halladay’s contract would be no issue with so much payroll potentially coming off the books.
When the Padres’ Jake Peavy was available over the winter, the Angels gave it serious consideration but never made a big pitch. There were concerns about how his shoulder and elbow would hold up over the long haul. With Halladay, who has been as durable as they come with superior mechanics, that is not an issue.
This is about as tempting as it gets. For Halladay, who has made it clear he wants to pitch for a winner if he leaves Toronto, the interest would have to be mutual. The Angels offer pretty much everything a player can want. Just ask Torii Hunter. He’ll talk all day about that.
Kelvim Escobar’s first experience as a relief pitcher in a big-game setting was unforgettable. To this day, it’s one of his enduring memories.
“I was 21 years old, just getting started with the Blue Jays,” Escobar recalled, going back to 1997 in his mind. “It was Roger Clemens’ first game back in Boston after going to Toronto, and everybody was going crazy that day.
“I was so very nervous when I came in. I was always a starter, and I’d pitched in two games before this. It was amazing, the energy of that crowd. Roger had 16 strikeouts [and no walks] and we had a 3-1 lead. I was so pumped up I was throwing 100 miles an hour.”
Escobar went to a 1-2 count against Wil Cordero, a right-handed hitter, and got him to fly out to right field. That was the only hitter he faced that day. It took three more Jays relievers to finish the job for Clemens and preserve the victory.
Now that he knows he’s going back to the bullpen — his body having informed him in one exercise in Detroit on the recent road trip that anything beyond 75 pitches brought back the pain in his surgically repaired right shoulder — Escobar will be leaning on memories like that one to get back into a reliever’s frame of mind.
Escobar, who will begin plalying catch on Monday in San Francisco with the hope of getting on a mound soon afterward. He could become a major force in the eighth inning with Scot Shields — master of that role for the past five seasons with the Angels — out for the season with knee surgery set for Tuesday.
“It’s nothing new for me,” Escobar said. “I’ve done it before — setting up, closing, middle relief, all of it. It’s different than starting, a different challenge.
“I think once my arm is [conditioned] to relieving, I’ll be in good shape. I’ve had no problems up to 75 pitches, and I won’t need that many in the bullpen.
“It would be great for the team if I’m able to pitch down there. If I can work up to pitching back-to-back games, it would take pressure off a lot of guys. I’m very versatile. If they needed me for two or three innings, I could even do that. But probably the best thing would be one inning of my best stuff.”
Escobar’s best stuff, in any role, is about as good as it gets. He was throwing consistently in the mid-90s in Detroit on June 6, pitching five strong innings (two earned runs) but picking up the loss because Tigers right-hander Edwin Jackson was dominant.
Along with his four-seam heat, Escobar can move a two-seam fastball down in the strike zone and keep hitters guessing with a curveball, split-fingered fastball and first-rate changeup.
Coming out of the bullpen, he’ll probably rely almost exclusively on the two fastballs, changeup and curve. He’ll have no need for a slider that can cause arm strain.
“Eskie’s a great pitcher,” Shields said. “He and Darren [Oliver] are great for all the young guys on the staff with their knowledge and leadership. When Eskie’s feeling good and on his game, he’s overpowering. If he can be that guy, we’ll be in good shape.”
Escobar notched 38 of his 59 career saves in 2002 with the Jays, making a career-high 76 appearances and finishing 68 games. He last worked out of the bullpen in 2005, making nine relief appearances in a season hindered by elbow issues.
If the Angels and Mariners are getting a little tired of seeing each other, you can’t really blame them. When they’re done this weekend, they will have faced off 13 times — more than 25 percent of each other’s schedule.
This is a trifle strange, given that the Angels haven’t even seen two American League teams — the Rays and Indians — and have encountered AL West leader Texas for only three games, while playing AL East power Boston six games, all in Anaheim.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been pleading for a more balanced schedule for a long time. All he can do is shake his head and, as he put it, “play the team they put in front of us.”
The Angels and Mariners have split their 10 games. After dominating the division last season, the reigning champions are 8-10 within the AL West.
“I think we’re beating a dead horse,” Scioscia said when the subject came up on Friday night. “But trying to get a little balance to the schedule and keeping Interleague Play is a daunting task.
“You should definitely see your division [rivals] early, middle and late. It doesn’t seem to work that way. When you’re playing your division in April, the middle of the season and at the end, no team can get too far ahead. You’ve got to earn it.”
The Angels will face reinging AL champion Tampa Bay on the upcoming road trip, the final leg of a nine-game journey that starts in Toronto and moves on to Detroit, where Kelvim Escobar figures to make his long-awaited comeback start next weekend.
Potentially, if all five remain sound, the Angels could have the deepest rotation in the game. John Lackey, Escobar, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver would be hard to match.
Escobar means more to this team beyond what he provides every fifth day. He’s a clubhouse force with his engaging personality and mental toughness. Santana, in particular, has benefited immensely from lockering next to the man from Venezuela.
There is an element of mystery involved, and Dustin Moseley is hoping for a happy ending — soon.
The pain in his neck, running down into his right elbow, has kept the Angels’ versatile right-hander idle since he pitched in a camp game in Arizona on May 13. It initially surfaced as he was on the track back to the pitching staff, having been shut down on April 18 after right forearm tightness surfaced in a start against the Twins in Minnesota.
With two high-caliber starts against the A’s and Red Sox to open the season, Moseley (1-0, 4.30 ERA) was settling in, believing the lingering discomfort following elbow surgery in October 2007 had lifted.
Now he is preparing to head back to Arizona for more evaluations, hoping to get some positive answers.
“We’ve had MRIs, X-rays . . . and they don’t see anything that looks serious,” Moseley said. “There’s always wear and tear on your body, so I’m hoping for the best. We should know a little more by next week.
“I threw two bullpens and felt great, and made two starts in camp games — 20 pitches, 45. I felt great, my velocity was good. That afternoon, after my last start, I started getting a tingling in my hand again and pain in my elbow.
“The pain sticks around, goes away. I don’t know. They don’t know.”
They are the Angels, who have spent the first two months of the season sifting through all sorts of pitching issues.
“They’re probably as frustrated as I am,” Moseley said. “Maybe it just needs rest.”
Moseley looks like a guy who won’t get much rest until his elbow tells him it’s sound, and he can go back to doing his work in whatever role the Angels have for him.