The Angels have lost their sizzle. They’ve made a few nice splashes in the bullpen with lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi bringing balance, but that’s not going to appease the disenfranchised fandom. They’re craving some big-name recognition.
The Angels have to do everything possible to make a bold move in the wake of losing Carl Crawford to the Red Sox. The obvious target is Adrian Beltre, a gem defensively with a lively bat. He’s a tough sign, of course, with Scott Boras running the show, but this is important. The Angels need to make a statement, not only to their fans but to their own players. Beltre would do that.
But I wouldn’t stop there. I’d go get Johnny Damon.
Sitting out there in free-agent land, virtually unnoticed, is one of the game’s acknowledged winners and sparkling personalities. Yes, he’s getting up in years, and some Angels fanatics are weary of importing former Yankees in their sunset years. But Damon can still play. He had a solid season in Detroit – 36 doubles, .355 on-base percentage – and would solve the leadoff issue, at last.
Give Damon a one-year deal at fair market value and let him keep left field warm for Mike Trout along with Bobby Abreu, the two former teammates in the Bronx sharing left and the DH role. Damon is not a great defender, but he’s good enough – and, like Torii Hunter, he’d be enormously helpful to Peter Bourjos.
For a team in need of a personality implant, Damon has few peers. He’s universally respected and liked throughout the game as a standup guy, a winner. He’s tough and he’s smart. He would also give Hunter some breathing room in an Angels clubhouse that is not exactly brimming with exciting, articulate leaders.
There’s a reason why a dozen or so reporters mill around Hunter’s locker space for 162 games every year. He has something to say and doesn’t mind saying it. The Angels have some terrific performers, notably in the starting rotation, but they’re not exactly quote machines. They prefer low profiles.
Johnny Damon is high profile, and affordable. I say go get him while you’re busy trying to figure out how to land Beltre. I’ve heard Damon could be on his way to Tampa Bay, but he has to see how difficult and dreary it could be in the Trop this season with no Crawford, no Rafael Soriano, no Carlos Pena, a bullpen that needs reconstructed.
Come on out west, Johnny D. And bring that bright light that follows you around. This team needs to come in out of the darkness. It could use one of the most endearing “Idiots” ever to pass through a Major League clubhouse. – Lyle Spencer
This has been a distressing week, and I’m not talking about the Angels’ struggles to score runs and stop clubs from abusing their pitching staff.
Two giants of the game, Ernie Harwell and Robin Roberts, have passed away in the past two days. They lived a combined 175 years and made wonderful use of their time on the planet, enriching countless lives in countless ways. They were among the very best the sport had to offer.
Stunning news arrived earlier in the week in the form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma having invaded the body of Dave Roberts, who also has enriched the game in ways both small and large. Roberts, smart, intuitive, irrepressibly upbeat, is meeting this challenge head-on, committed to overcoming this obstacle and living a long, rich life, just as Harwell and Roberts did.
If there is any justice, Roberts will be alive into his 80s, making people laugh and feel good about themselves, like those two gentlemen.
I came to know “Doc,” as we called him, during the two seasons he played for the Padres and I covered them on a daily basis for MLB.com. He was what we call in the business a “go-to guy,” much like Torii Hunter is with the Angels. In hard times, when players are disinclined to talk about their team’s troubles and their own, there hopefully are those who can be counted on to offer insights no matter how dire the straits.
Dave Roberts, with the Padres and the other teams he graced, was one of those athletes, just as Hunter is a magnet for Angels beat writers.
In 2005, Roberts was coming off his triumph in Boston, when he stole a base against the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series that triggered one of the greatest comebacks – and stories – in the game’s history. Roberts is a part of New England lore for his lore in exorcising those Bambino curses and ghost.
Coming home to San Diego, Roberts led off and played center field in 2005 for a club that made the postseason, getting swept by the Cardinals. He played the game with passion and intelligence. One thing nagged at him: his reputation for being fragile. We collaborated on several articles that knocked down this widely-held perception.
Athletes given to hurling themselves into the game, as Roberts did and Hunter does, put themselves in harm’s way. It has nothing to do with being injury-prone. It’s simply the by-product of playing full-tilt, with abandon.
In ’06, Roberts moved over to left to accommodate the arrival of Mike Cameron, a man Hunter considers one of the three premier defensive center fielders of the generation. In right was Brian Giles, completing a wonderfully productive outfield.
There was one horrific moment involving Roberts that season that seemed to characterize his career. Pursuing a fly ball at Angel Stadium, he rammed his right knee into the base of the fence in left field chasing what turned out to be an inside-the-park homer by Dallas McPherson.
“The only way for him to stop his momentum is to slide — and he smoked his knee good,” Giles said. “That’s the way Doc approaches it. Hopefully, it’s a bruised kneecap and he’ll be out a few days.”
Roberts — a star quarterback in high school who could have been a defensive back at UCLA but focused instead on baseball – soon was back in his leadoff role, creating havoc. He stole a career-high 49 bases in 55 attempts in ’06 and would have exceeded 50 if not for that incident in Anaheim. In 129 games, he scored 80 runs, another career best.
The Padres were a joy to cover. With Mike Piazza behind the plate, Adrian Gonzalez emerging at first base, Khalil Greene and Josh Barfield looking like future stars in the middle of the infield, and Jake Peavy, Chris Young and the great Trevor Hoffman anchoring the pitching staff, this was a good team, seemingly on the verge of even better things.
They won the NL West again, and the Cardinals took them out in four games in the NLDS on their way to a World Series triumph.
Doc moved on to San Francisco in 2007 and ended his career as a Giant – fittingly – in ’08. He did some broadcasting work for the Red Sox last year and was in Spring Training, getting in a uniform and teaching young Padres some tricks in his new role as a club executive, when Hodgkin’s surfaced. Treatments began, and he is telling people he’s optimistic he’ll beat it.
Not surprisingly, he kept working with those young Padres. Their totally unexpected start, bolting out of the gate this season under manager Bud Black, might not be a coincidence.
Good teams and things seem to follow Doc Roberts around. It could be all those good vibes he passes around, without even trying. They don’t make them any better than this guy. – Lyle Spencer
Scott Kazmir was throwing the longest pre-game toss I’ve ever seen a few minutes ago, from the warning track in left center at Fenway Park all the way across the outfield to a spot about 40 feet from the right-field foul line.
Finishing his long toss, Kazmir threw some flat-ground deliveries and headed for the bullpen, casually tossing a ball into the crowd on his way.
The Angels’ southpaw looked like a kid in the park, having a good time, which is how I would expect him to be. He loves this type of challenge, pitching on the big stage. If the Red Sox beat him in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, it won’t have anything to do with Kazmir being intimidated by the crowd or the moment.
He’s a pure-bred athlete, a former high school QB in Houston who simply loves to compete.
Among the many things I’ve grown to like about Kazmir is that he reminds me so much of Nick Adenhart. I was thinking about this on the long flight from LA to Boston. Those quiet moments alone are when I generally start thinking about Adenhart and the tragedy. I knew him and cared deeply about him, and it still hurts every day.
Kazmir didn’t get to know Adenhart, which is a shame, because I’m sure they’d have become fast friends. On the other hand, it’s possible Kazmir wouldn’t be here if a drunken driver hadn’t killed Adenhart, Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson in the early hours of April 9.
It is entirely possible Adenhart, if not for that act of criminal insanity, would have been pitching Game 3 of this series.
Having uncovered some missing ingredients in his delivery, and recovering his confidence, which had sagged in 2008, Nick was just getting started in what would have been a breakout season when his life ended so prematurely at 22.
That’s not just my opinion, that Adenhart had stardom in his future. Those who knew him best – teammates and especially catchers – are convinced he’d have had a big year, and then many more.
Kazmir is right there with you, in the moment, when you’re talking with him. He’s not somewhere else. He has that cool, easy manner that Nick embodied, an effortless grace that marks the premier athletes. Adenhart studied video of past greats and loved hearing stories about pitchers from previous eras. He laughed as I told him stories about some I’ve covered through the years, especially former Dodgers and A’s star Bobby Welch. Welch was so much like Adenhart, and now we have Kazmir, too. It’s comforting.
Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 changed the season for the Angels. It gave them a sense that they had everything they needed now. Veterans privately expressed shock that Tampa Bay would let a talent like this get away, and that the Angels would be lucky enough to land him through a waiver deal.
“This guy is really, really good,” Bobby Abreu said that day. “I love that we got him. I’ve faced him – I know how tough he is. He is really going to help us.”
John Lackey and Jered Weaver were brilliant in Anaheim, but this, of course, is a different venue. The Red Sox will feel the energy of the crowd, and if they regain their confidence, they can be dangerous.
The Angels have a cushion, but they are advised to do everything possible to finish off Boston today. You don’t want the Red Sox gaining momentum and feeling good about themselves again.
After a robust August, hitting .337 with a .625 slugging percentage, Vladimir Guerrero needed a big September kick to prolong one of the game’s most remarkable streaks.
Batting a quiet .262 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 28 games, Guerrero fell short of .300 for the first time in his career, ending a stretch of 12 consecutive seasons at .300 or higher with a .295 average. It was also the first time since his rookie year in 1997, when he played 90 games, that Guerrero didn’t hit at least 25 homers, finishing with 15.
He’s a .321 career hitter with a .568 slugging percentage, having launched 407 home runs and produced 1,318 runs batted in. That counts for something in the mind of his manager, Mike Scioscia. But, fans being fanatics, it’s not enough to stop malcontents from calling for a new lineup spot for the cleanup man.
In Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Boston on Thursday night, Guerrero singled and scored a run in four at-bats. He also had a hit taken away in his first at-bat on a fine play by third baseman Mike Lowell.
But in a big spot early in the game, bases loaded and two outs in the third inning, lefty Jon Lester made Guerrero look bad, striking him out on an elevated fastball at his shoulders.
One of the great bad-ball hitters in the game’s history, Guerrero looked bad in that at-bat. But not bad enough for Scioscia to drop him in the order and elevate, say, Kendry Morales, who was in the No. 5 slot in Game 2 against Josh Beckett.
“Veteran’s pride is a non-issue,” Scioscia said, denying the widely held notion that Scioscia doesn’t want to hurt his slugger’s feelings. “In that one at-bat, he expanded his zone. One at-bat, he fouled a ball straight back that would have ended up in the rocks [beyond center field]. He hit a sharp ground ball in the hole that Lowell dove for. He had some good swings. In one at-bat, he got a little out of his element.”
Scioscia said he likes the “presence” Guerrero brings to the lineup hitting behind Torii Hunter, whose three-run homer was the big blow in Game 1.
“With Vlad, it takes one good swing, and he gets back where he needs to be,” Scioscia said. “In the middle of the lineup, we need a consistent presence, and we feel it’s going to be Vlad. He hasn’t hit the ball that poorly. In the Texas [AL West] clinching game, he hit four bullets all over the field. That was a week ago.”
Scioscia said that if Guerrero’s struggles warrant a move down in the order, he’d do it.
“If a player’s not getting it done at a level you would need, you would understand a change has to be made,” Scioscia said. “For our lineup to go, we’re definitely going to need Vlad going. We’re a better lineup if he’s swinging the way he can.”
Assuming the Yankees choose the longer of the two American League Division Series and open at home on Wednesday against the survivor of Tuesday’s Tigers-Twins showdown, the Angels will kick off their series against the Red Sox on Thursday evening at 6:37 PT.
The game will be televised by TBS and carried on radio by ESPN.
Game 2 of the Angels-Red Sox series also would start at 6:37 p.m. PT on Friday evening. It too will be carried by TBS and ESPN radio.
If the Yankees choose the shorter series, the Angels and Red Sox would meet at 3:07 p.m. PT on Wednesday in Game 1. Game 2 would remain at 6:37 p.m. PT
The Yankees, by virtue of owning the league’s best record, have the option of choosing the longer or shorter of the two series. They have good reason to want to open on Wednesday, given the short turnaround it will be for the winner of Tuesday’s one-game playoff between the Tigers and Twins in Minnesota, which will be carried by TBS at 2:07 PT.
The Angels, with the AL’s best record last season, chose the longer series against the Red Sox.
In any case, the Angels’ John Lackey will face Jon Lester in Game 1.
Mike Scioscia’s 2002 Angels won the franchise’s only World Series as a Wild Card, but that was not really such an exception.
Since 2000, teams with the best record in their league have been eliminated in the first round of postseason play more often (10 times) than Wild Cards (six times).
In that nine-year time frame, Wild Cards have reached the World Series eight times, winning it all on three occasions.
There’s more: Wild Card teams since 2000 have a combined 102-82 record compared to 78-78 by clubs that fashioned the best records in their leagues.
Going back to 1995 and the advent of the current system, Wild Cards have reached nine World Series and won four.
Clearly, going into the postseason as a second-place club is not such a bad deal at all.
Scioscia thinks Wild Card entries should enter the tournament with a more decided handicap rather than having the same path to travel as one of the three division champions.
“I’d like to see a 1-4 setup in the first round for the Wild Card teams,” Scioscia said. “Let them play the first game at home and then finish the series on the road. Or go to a 2-1-2 format.
“The way it is now, not enough weight is being given to division winners. Wild Cards should not be on the same ground.”
Scioscia always has attached more value to winning divisions across six months and 162 games – “the toughest challenge,” he calls it — than getting hot at the right time and winning 11 postseason contests.
Scioscia pointed out that this has nothing to do with the Angels facing a Wild Card in Boston next week for the second season in a row.
The Red Sox last year won the first two games in Anaheim, losing Game 3 at Fenway Park before claiming the series in Game 4.
Scioscia’s idea has merit. It should be more difficult for Wild Cards to make it through the opening round. You can win 100 games across six months and find your season over before you know what hit you.
The way it is now, all the Wild Card team needs to do is split the first two games on the road, and suddenly it is in the driver’s seat. Going home 1-1, two wins by the Wild Card eliminate a division champion.
This is the route Scioscia’s Angels took in ’02 when they won Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium and carried the momentum home to finish the job.
Giving the Wild Card the opener at home and then finishing the series in the house of the division winner also makes economic and environmental sense.
If the Angels and Red Sox split the first four games, they’ll return to Anaheim for Game 5 – two cross-country flights for a whole lot of people in the space of four days.
There’s no denying the success of Wild Cards in postseason play. But Scioscia, an independent thinker, will argue that it should have been even more difficult for his ’02 Angels to eliminate the Bronx Bombers en route to the Promised Land.
ANAHEIM – Bobby Abreu sat at his locker before Sunday’s game at Angel Stadium against the Athletics, engrossed in a showdown between the Yankees, his old team, and the Red Sox on a flat screen TV.
Abreu reached another personal milestone in a season loaded with them on Saturday night: 100 RBIs for the seventh year in a row. Only Albert Pujols has done that, but Abreu was reasonably certain a former teammate – Alex Rodriguez – would be joining them shortly.
“Alex has 94,” Abreu said, nodding toward the wide-screen TV. “He should get there without much trouble.”
Abreu clearly was pleased – and relieved – to have reached 100 with a two-run homer, his 14th, in the fourth inning of what was to be a 15-10 loss to the sizzling Athletics on Saturday night.
“That’s a good one,” Abreu said, “Albert and me . . . and Alex coming.”
Abreu has been made aware of another milestone in his reach. He’s one steal away from 30, which would bring him in the company of Barry Bonds as the only players to combine at least 30 steals and at least 100 RBIs in five seasons.
Abreu last did it in 2006, the season he split with the Phillies and Yankees. In the Bronx, A-Rod coming up behind him, Abreu wasn’t encouraged to steal. With the born-to-run Angels, he has the green light to go when he sees the opportunity, and he has succeeded on 29 of 37 sprints.
“Bobby’s a very smart baserunner,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He knows what he’s doing out there.”
In terms of career numbers, what impresses Chone Figgins — who lockers next door and is usually immersed in baseball conversation with Abreu – is the fact that the right fielder has scored more career runs (1,265) than he has driven home (1,184).
“You can only score them one at a time,” Figgins said. “You can drive them in two, three, four at a time. That shows you how much Bobby’s been on base – and how well he has run the bases.”
Abreu was back in the No. 2 spot in the order on Sunday against Edgar Gonzalez, with Erick Aybar batting ninth in front of Figgins, giving him, in effect, two leadoff men to set the table.
If you want to get Mike Scioscia’s undivided attention, ask him what he thinks of the schedule. The Angels’ manager goes straight to the point without a hint of slowing down to find the right politically correct words.
“The schedule’s a joke,” Scioscia said before Tuesday night’s showdown with the Bronx Bombers at Angel Stadium. “You should be [playing] in your own division early in the season, the middle of the season and in September.
“For the sake of division rivalry, that should be the way it goes. The fact we’re swinging back East [for four games in New York and Boston [Sept. 14-17] and [the Yankees] are coming out West [for six games against the Mariners and Angels, Sept. 18-23] makes no sense.”
The Angels had a 10-day, 10-game trip through Baltimore, Cleveland and Toronto from Aug. 14-23.
Sept. 14 was an off-day on the schedule, but a rainout in New York in early May forced a postponement to that date. After a night game at Yankee Stadium, the troupe flew to Boston for three night games, with a game waiting in Texas on Friday.
Their day off on Thursday will the Angels’ second free day since Aug. 13 when they embarked on that East Coast junket.
Scioscia is careful not to give his players any openings to make excuses for unfocused performances. But he played the game long enough to know how draining 49 games in 51 days can be, which is why he is careful to give regulars occasional days “off their feet,” as he puts it.
Since Aug. 3, the Angels have had two days off: Aug. 13, when they traveled to Baltimore, and Sept. 3, when they traveled from Seattle to Kansas City.
There are members of the Yankees traveling party who would nod heartily in agreement with Scioscia’s assessment of the schedule.
The Bombers have made two trips to the West Coast since the All-Star break, starting with a seven-game journey through Seattle and Oakland Aug. 13-19.
The New York continent couldn’t help noticing that their big rivals, the Red Sox, were done with the Pacific Time Zone on May 17 when they wrapped up a three-game series in Seattle following three games in Anaheim against the Angels.
The Red Sox journeyed to Oakland and Anaheim April 10-15.
Boston traveled to Texas in July and August, one time zone away. The Sox have a three-game set in Kansas City, again one time zone away.
This might seem like a relatively minor issue, but anybody who has made the change from playing for an East Coast or Midwest team to a West Coast outfit can detail how draining coast-to-coast travel can be over the long course of a season.
“I had no idea how rough travel was out here,” Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. “In Minnesota, everything was two, three hours away. With this team, we’re flying six hours to the East Coast and always trying to adjust to time changes. It’s a big adjustment, believe me. Travel out here is much more difficult.”
Yankees diehards might be excused for arguing that Boston, staying in the East and Central time zones throughout the second half, was handed a scheduling advantage. They might use it to explain why the Sox appear fresh and are finishing strong – eight wins in the past 10 games – while the Yankees have endured a sluggish period, winning four of the past 10 since Sept. 11.
The Yankees have a day off on Thursday to get rested and revved for three big weekend games at home against the Red Sox.
As for the Angels, they finish with 10 games inside the division – including six, three home and three away, against an Oakland team that is loose and playing well, with wins in eight of the past 10.
At least, Scioscia would concede, the schedule-makers got that right.
Ask Mike Scioscia if he’s pondering his playoff rotation, and he’ll give you a look he used to reserve for pitchers who threw at his head.
This is a man who simply won’t discuss October baseball until the Angels have reduced their magic number to zero.
That leaves it to those of us in the business of speculation to, well, speculate. If the playoffs were to begin tomorrow – a lovely thought, actually – the Angels would be welcoming the Red Sox to Angel Stadium, a modern facility with all the amenities not found in the creepy-crawly visiting clubhouse at storied Fenway Park.
After careful evaluation of performances from the recent past and very recent past, here is how your correspondent would anticipate the Angels’ starters shaping up for Games 1 and 2: John Lackey and Jered Weaver.
Lackey, the acknowledged ace and staff leader, also has been on a very nice second half roll. He has been the Game 1 starter the past two seasons against Boston, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be matched up against Josh Beckett again, as in 2007, or Jon Lester, as in 2008.
Weaver has earned the Game 2 start as the club’s most durable starter all year, and he has done his best work at home.
As for Game 3, the nod here goes to the new guy, Scott Kazmir. He has pitched effectively in Fenway Park over the years, and there’s just something about the guy that makes you feel he’ll be on top of his game when it counts most. He’s an athlete, an old Texas football player, and his stuff – always good – figures to elevate a notch with October adrenaline.
The big question, then, is deciding between Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana for Game 4 in Boston. Both have had quality games there, but Saunders, overall, has been the more effective of the two in Fenway Park.
Saunders gets the call for that reason, and also because Santana has fared well in October relief assignments. He prefers to start, but he’s also smart enough to know he’s in some high-caliber company here, and it’s no insult to be dispatched to the bullpen in favor of a man with Saunders’ tools and attitude.
So, there you have it. Scioscia will not be happy when he sees this – I’m sure I’ve violated some sort of code of ethics in doing this. But it’s something that is on a lot of fans’ minds at the moment, and a guy trying to make a living in hard times has to do what he can to please the customer.
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.”