Thursday, June 14, 2012

Angels, Frieri, win battle of the bullpen closers

New Angels closer Ernesto Frieri and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen met twice this week in the Freeway Series at Dodger Stadium. Frieri won the matching both times, and it made the difference as the Angels won two of three, taking the series in the city yard for the fourth year in a row.


By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles


If there's anything to be learned from the Freeway Series just concluded at Dodger Stadium, we could surmise that the Angels are better situated for a closer.

The rubber game Wednesday came down to a one-inning showdown between the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen, who lost it to a long fly, and the Angels’ Ernesto Frieri, who came within less than an inch of giving it back.

But the Angels don't give a lot back to the Dodgers, against whom they are 11-4 since 2009. A 2-1 win for the Angels Wednesday gave them four straight series wins at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers have only won four series anywhere against the Angels since 2002. Angels lead the series all-time, 52-37.

Wednesday night was the second such encounter between Jansen and Frieri in this series. Monday night, Frieri prevailed with a ninth-inning save after the Angels scratched out a run against Jansen to take a 3-2 lead. Wednesday, the blow was more sudden and surprising -- Erick Aybar's first home run of the year, a line blast to right field in the ninth inning, giving the Angels their decisive 2-1 lead. Jansen's pitch, a 90 MPH fastball, went straight through the middle of the plate with no apparent signs of life.

Pitching on a day of rest after three days of work, Frieri barely preserved the lead. He walked A.J Ellis to start the inning, then James Loney singled Ellis to third with no one out. Up came Juan Uribe, just off the disabled list and entering the game with a .333 average against right handers.

Frieri missed with his first two fastballs and fell into a 2-0 hole. The Dodgers had him right where they wanted him. Next, Frieri threw a 94 MPH fastball and Uribe just missed it, fouling it straight back. He hits that ball a couple centimeters higher and it's traveling. Next pitch, same thing -- 94, through the middle, fouled straight back.

That was the Dodgers' chance to win the game, and it was gone. We mean not to put everything on one player or at bat, but to point out that the Dodgers didn't get a good rip at Frieri after that.

Uribe hit the next pitch, another fastball, hard on the ground right at Aybar. Running on contact, Ellis was dead at the plate, but he prolonged the rundown enough to get Loney to third and Uribe to second. The Dodgers traded a base for an out, which isn't necessarily the best deal in the game because the runner on first with no outs scores more frequently than the runner on second with one out. But putting the winning run on second seemed worth the trade with one out for the Dodgers, because now they would get two cracks at it.

But Tony Gwynn struck out looking, and Bobby Abreu hit a ground ball right back at Frieri, who made a nice play on it before ending the game with his throw to first.

Following Wednesday's game, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters that the club was asking a lot of Jansen to work for his third straight night. Tuesday, Mattingly used Jansen to work a one-inning save with a 5-2 lead in the ninth.

The Tuesday game, of course, turned out to be a gimme for the Dodgers in the bullpens because Frieri had worked his third straight game, successfully, for a save Monday night. Scioscia was counting on lefty Scott Downs to be available for Tuesday, but Downs couldn't go because of pains in his side, so Scioscia left starting pitcher Jerome Williams in there to give up the game-tying and game-winning hits in the eighth inning.

In other words, close as this series was, the Dodgers could have swept, but the Angels, unlike the Dodgers, were actually very close to sweeping, perhaps, if Downs hadn't come up sore Tuesday.

One has to be impressed with the Angels going into Dodger Stadium and winning two of three. Much as we fret about the Dodgers being tattered and patched together, they still have the best record in baseball at 40-24. But they're 17-15 since Matt Kemp first went on the disabled list, not 23-11 like they were before he went on it.

Right now, the Angels are a little better. Especially at the very end of the game.

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