Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rookies take two paths to Angels win

Two Angels rookies were on display Monday night in the opener of their Freeway Series with the Dodgers. Mike Trout made all the plays that turned a 3-2 Angels win. But pitcher Garrett Richards, making his fifth major league start, equally won this game by handling failure.

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles


It would be wrong to say that Mike Trout became some kind of a star or presence in town Monday night, because that's what he does all the time. Then again, when the Angels are playing the Dodgers, every big league fan in town is watching.

Unless the Kings are winning their first Stanley Cup in 45 years of history Monday night.

It's safe to say there was more celebrating than ball viewing happening as Trout changed a game that no one else could budge, a 3-2 Angels win against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Trout played a central role in every Angels run, which would be the one that put them on the board, the one that tied the game and the one that won the game.

For those still watching as a four-hour game wound down at the end of a long Monday night, Trout was dessert, an exquisite individual performance topping off a great team championship. Two for four, a homer, two stolen bases, a walk and two RBI. Trout set the table for Albert Pujols to be a hero in the ninth inning, waiting out Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen for an eight-pitch walk with one out, then immediately stealing second base. With red-hot Torii Hunter and Pujols coming up, the Angels had two good chances to get him in.

Jansen struck out Hunter, but Pujols broke his bat on a high 3-1 fastball and dropped a floater into left field, driving in the speedy Trout. Angels reliever Ernesto Frieri closed out the Dodgers in the ninth.

To the extent that one believes baseball is based in failure, Monday night's game made a good deal of sense. The game obviously did not turn on scoring and lead changes so much as chances denied. One never knew how some scoring chance would end, be it a double play, a pick-off or a base runner being hit by a batted ball. Both starting pitchers -- Dodger veteran lefty Chris Capuano and Angels rookie right hander Garrett Richards -- struggled all night. But each was able to find a strikeout pitch or a ground ball when necessary and they turned over a 2-2 game to the bullpens.

The Dodgers were only one-for-11 batting with runners in scoring position. The Angels were only one-for-10 likewise when Pujols batted in the ninth. This futile game would have remained tied in more ways than one if Pujols didn't deliver. Later, Pujols told a TV interviewer that he felt thankful he didn't hit a long fly ball. Albert's a little bit lucky these days. Two for 11. Angels win.

Trout, in command of the game, is quite an electric and impressive rookie, now batting .354 with a .977 OPS. In his way, Richards, the Angels rookie pitcher, was equally impressive in failure.

Making his fifth big league start, Richards couldn't even throw his fastball for strikes, he made a throwing error to open up a two-run first inning for the Dodgers, and he got himself picked off right before Trout homered in the fourth, costing the Angels a run. He had absolutely nothing working. But he held himself together, and he held the game together, too. He made good pitches when he absolutely had to take down National League RBI leader Andre Ethier and veteran producer Bobby Abreu (Dodgers manager Don Mattingly praised the “demeanor” of Abreu’s at bats in Tuesday’s LA Times). When it was time for Richards to go after five innings and 102 pitchers, the game still was in reach for the Angels.

Capuano has been around for eight years and he’s been fighting games like this for his whole career. You know your starting pitcher just isn’t going to have it about one-third of the time. When he doesn’t have it, what does he have? A little bit of luck, maybe, but is that all? Capuano and Richards both displayed it Monday night. For whatever reasons, the hitters failed equally.

Richards owned the Seattle Mariners last week in his first major league start of the year, striking out eight, giving up four hits and walking two in seven innings. Angels won, 6-1. This time, Richards couldn’t throw his fastballs for consistent strikes. According to these findings, he threw strikes with only 33 of 65 fastballs. He was always behind. The bases were always littered. Bottom line, the Dodgers didn’t score after the first inning.

The pitching matchup for Tuesday night isn't exactly about glamour, but it tells us a lot about why these two teams are in very hot contention. The Angels' Jerome Williams (6-3, 4.02) and the Dodgers' Aaron Harang (5-3, 3.95) both are No. 5 starters, and they're both well better than what a lot of clubs have at No. 5.

It isn't box office enough to distract fans from the Kings. But the Kings already have finished their work. Now, the Dodgers and Angels will continue about theirs.

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