Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Angels unlikely win sets scene for more

On a night when the Angels certainly needed their ace pitcher, Jered Weaver's back gave out after throwing 12 pitches to the New York Yankees. But there was something a little different about the Angels Monday night at the Big A. It's called hitting. The Angels finally did a bit of it, and they suddenly looked like a different team.

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in LA


At the Big A Monday night, the first inning alone contained enough twists and turns for an entire baseball game. But they played the other eight innings, anyway, and the game was never any worse for it.

The Angels blew down so many doors with their 9-8 win against the New York Yankees that they almost don't look like the same team in its wake. For the moment, at least, they aren't a losing team, climbing to 25-25 with their seventh straight win.

Beating the Yankees in a slugfest is never a small achievement. Winning the slugfest after joining it reluctantly is even more to be esteemed. But that's what the Angels were up against when Jered Weaver's back gave out just 12 pitches into his much anticipated start against the Yankees Monday night. Pitching at Angel Stadium for the first time since no-hitting the Minnesota Twins on May 2, Weaver lasted only three hitters against the Yankees and left the field with audible signs of outrage.

Weaver's departure looked too much like the wrong kind of ding at the wrong time for a club that was just finding traction. Weaver, being the guy you trust to shut down the best offenses, had to be wanting this one after a difficult outing at Texas on May 13. Now, he goes down after not getting an out in the very first of three games against the Yankees, who are already going to tax your pitching staff. The Angels were down, 3-0, before they even went to bat.

But then we saw true fight in the Angels, and the cloud passed over the immediate situation while they scored four runs in their half of the first inning to take the lead. Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo are all guys who you think are going to hit, and they all hit in the rally. Quite refreshing for a team that scored a total of five runs in three straight losses about a week earlier.

Whether because they were momentarily called to excellence or because they were facing Yankee starter Phil Hughes, the Angels made contact like we haven't seen this year. Even as the Yankees hacked away at the Angels bullpen, inning by inning, the Angels remained in strong position all night because of their hitting. So, the Angels won one against a contender by hitting. It almost hadn't seemed possible.

But it was always possible, largely because of one guy who kept producing for the Angels through the bad times, the same player the Angels sort of nudged aside when they signed Pujols. A lot of clubs would have looked at Mark Trumbo at the end of last year and said, "Hey, we have a 25-year-old right-handed hitting first baseman who just hit 29 bombs his first year in the big leagues. Maybe we have that part of the equation solved and we can address some other areas of need on our ball club." But the Angels made the entertainment decision and signed Pujols with hopes for a marketing payback.

Not saying at all that the signing Pujols is a poor baseball decision. Anyone with the bucks would have made it, and we're seeing lately the difference it makes when Pujols trades those 385-foot fly balls for 120-foot line drives. He starts receiving 420-foot home runs as a kickback. However, the Angels were not compelled by their baseball circumstances to sign Pujols, and the signing did, in fact, present the Angels with the new problem of fitting Trumbo's bat into the lineup.

The fairy tale wish had it that Trumbo would graduate after six weeks at Geppetto's workshop in Tempe, AZ, as a passable big league third baseman. After Trumbo made three errors at third during the first two games of the season, the Angels backed off. Meanwhile, the tepid state of the Angels offense made it urgent to put Trumbo in the lineup. Trumbo has taken starts at five positions -- third base, first base, designated hitter, left field and right field. With Torii Hunter coming back now from his family leave, Angels manager Mike Scioscia told radio announcer Terry Smith the other day that we can expect to see a lot of Trumbo in left field, with Trout in center and Hunter in right.

All night Monday, when the Angels needed star hitting, one of the least expensive players on their roster provided it. In the first inning, Trumbo hit a ground-rule double to drive in a run. In the third, he led off with a triple and scored on Kendrick's sacrifice fly.

And leading off the bottom of the ninth, of course, we saw what happened. Yankee reliever Cory Wade threw a 1-1 changeup that drifted in to Trumbo, who crushed it into the left field seats to end the game as a 9-8 Angels victory.

It was a win on a night when winning seemed momentous and impossible for the Angels. Now, they get to go out for another one.

The Yankees are coming back Tuesday night with 40-year-old left hander Andy Pettitte, who is making his fourth start since taking a year of retirement. Pettitte (2-1, 2.53) has whiffed 17 batters in his last 15 innings. The Angels, who can pitch with anyone in the American League, will counter with Dan Haren (2-5, 3.76). The road has not been smooth this year for Haren, but he might have gotten well with a 14-strikeout performance last Thursday in Seattle.

A win for the Angels Tuesday night would give them a winning record for the first time this season. And it would place them within one game of the Yankees for the league's final playoff spot with barely more than 110 games remaining for each team.

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