In the afterglow of a 3-1 triumph and three-game weekend sweep of the Blue Jays . . .
With two outs in the sixth, Erick Aybar still on second after a leadoff double, Hideki Matsui unloads on a Ricky Romero fastball and sends it rocketing one-hop off the center-field wall to snap a scoreless deadlock for Ervin Santana. Before the game, manager Mike Scioscia talked in some detail about how Japanese hitters spend hour after hour trying to gain a perfect balance at home plate. At times it appears Matsui is leaning back as he takes his swing, falling away, but he manages to keep his bat in the hitting zone and drive the ball. He did it again in the ninth, igniting what proved to be an important two-run rally. This is an amazing hitter, a man who thrives under pressure.
These sparse, disinterested Blue Jays crowds. I know it’s Stanley Cup time, and it’s cold, and the Jays haven’t been good for a long while, and they traded Roy Halladay. But this is not good. I’ve always defended Canadian baseball fans, and I truly miss Montreal, one of the world’s great cities. But the Jays aren’t that bad. These “Lyle” chants, zeroing in on the slumping first baseman, are not worthy of such an urbane city. The Jays drew for these three Angels dates what they once attracted for an average regular-season game. Sad.
Ervin Santana, when he’s on his game, is a tremendous pitcher. He was dealing with supreme confidence from the outset Sunday. Trouble surfaced twice in the early going, and both times he reached back and made quality pitches, leaving runners in scoring position. His fastball was sitting in the 91-93 mph range – not quite where it will be when he gets in a warm-weather groove – and his slider and changeup were dancing. He thought his change was his best pitch, and he should know. If he maintains his rhythm, flow and confidence, the Angels could have a rotation full of All-Star candidates after a rough first two spins through the cycle. – Lyle Spencer
It’s a good thing Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis have a highly evolved relationship – and matching senses of humor, also fully developed.
They share and share alike, the way best friends are supposed to act.
The Angels co-catchers are fully aware of the friction generated by the fact that only one of them can play at a time, given that the designated-hitter role belongs to Vladimir Guerrero.
Most of the anger and resentment from fans come when Napoli and his booming bat are on the bench alongside manager Mike Scioscia, who values Mathis’ athleticism and game-calling ability more highly than fans fixated on raw numbers.
For the record, the Angels are 38-26 when Napoli catches, 36-21 when Mathis calls the shots. The club is 11-5 when Napoli is the DH.
Before Sunday’s series finale at Rogers Centre, Napoli getting the call against southpaw Ricky Romero, the two catchers were having some laughs when the subject of the perceived competition between the two was dropped in their laps by your faithful correspondent.
“I know a lot of people want Mike in there,” Mathis said. “I understand why.”
Fans – not just chicks – dig the long ball. Napoli, after a three-run ninth-inning bomb on Friday night, has produced 17 homers and 48 RBIs in 306 at-bats, about a half-season worth. Mathis has five homers and 26 RBIs in 179 at-bats.
No catcher in history has produced homers per at-bat at a greater rate than Napoli.
Napoli is hitting .297, Mathis .212 – despite an August surge during which he has hit .294. All five of his homers have come in his past 29 games.
“If you want fans to like you more,” Napoli said in that familiar banter that goes on between the two best buddies, “hit better than .212.”
“I’m trying, I’m trying,” Mathis replied, grinning.
The most important aspect of their relationship is the mutual respect. They’re constantly sharing information, offering advice and encouragement, a team within a team.
Napoli admires Mathis’ remarkable athleticism and defensive skills and is keenly aware that the staff ERA shrinks by almost a run when his buddy dons the catching gear.
Mathis is in awe of Napoli’s hitting skills and plate discipline, which are on a level with most of the game’s premier sluggers.
They’ve been roommates for years now. Fans readily take sides, most of them drawn to Napoli’s loud bat, but nothing will drive these two guys apart.
The Angels are lucky to have two premium receivers — even if fans don’t realize it. A third, Bobby Wilson, has Major League skills at Triple-A Salt Lake, and Hank Conger and others are making progress throughout the organization.
Scioscia always says you can’t have enough good pitching, but he obviously feels the same way about guys who ply the trade he handled so well for so long.