It is generally unwise to read too much into the events of a season opener, one game in a long schedule.
Then again, is it just too cynical to point out that the way the Angels opened the 2002 season Sunday night was numbingly similar to the way they ended the 2001 season?
In fact, it was only a few minutes after the eight members of the Navy SEAL skydiving team had landed on the outfield grass at Edison Field as the highlight of a patriotic pregame ceremony that the hype and hope that began building when Disney turned serious in the off-season suffered an initial grounding.
For an excited crowd of 42,697, it was suddenly September again, the month when the Angels' wild-card hopes evaporated amid 25 losses in their last 31 games, including seven in a row to end the season.
Operating without Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez and Kenny Lofton, the Cleveland Indians scored four runs in the first inning and went on to a 6-0 victory behind Bartolo Colon's five-hitter.
Maybe Mike Scioscia, beginning his third season as the Angel manager and spin doctor and convinced that his club is a contender (of course, when hasn't he been?), was trying to ask the media to keep the results in perspective even before the first pitch.
"The opener probably draws more of a microscope than any other game during the season," Scioscia said. "Obviously, if you play well, you hope it carries over.
"But honestly, it's one of 162 games and its impact on the season may be overstated as far as what we have to do to be a championship team."
What the Angels have to do to reach that lofty level has been chronicled.
They need quality innings from a rotation enhanced by the additions of Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele, and increased run production from an offense that outscored only Baltimore and Tampa Bay last season. In particular, they need Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon to regain their form of two years ago.
"If spring training was a litmus test, every level is where we hoped it would be," Scioscia said before every level failed in the opener.
Salmon struck out twice, grounded meekly in front of the plate and contributed a throwing error to Cleveland's first-inning push. Erstad had only an infield hit in four at-bats and got a bad jump on Jim Thome's shallow fly that fell for a bloop single as the Indians built their first-inning lead against Jarrod Washburn, the young left-hander being touted as his club's new ace.
It is hard to criticize Scioscia and the Angels for showing faith in one of their own by starting Washburn, but the adrenaline may not have been pumping as much for the more experienced Appier or Sele.
Washburn insisted it wasn't a case of nerves, but he walked leadoff batter Matt Lawton and consistently was behind in the count during that first inning in which the first five Indians reached base.
"I made good pitches, they got their bats on the ball, a few bloopers fell and it exploded into a big inning and ruined any excitement we had going into the opener," Washburn said. "It's very frustrating to lose any time and I'll take full responsibility. I put us in a hole that was impossible to come back from the way Colon was pitching."
If the Indians are to remain dominant in the American League Central as they retrench financially and rebuild with younger players, it will probably have to be done more with pitching than their once-celebrated power, and much will hinge this season on a rotation that includes Colon, C.C. Sabathia (who faces the Angels on Tuesday night), Chuck Finley (who starts Wednesday) and Danys Baez.
Colon was 0-2 with a 5.40 earned-run average against the Angels last year, when he was 14-12 overall, but the Angels never mounted a serious threat against the 28-year-old right-hander, who was still throwing in the high 90s in the ninth inning and needed only 98 pitches to finish what he started.
It is rare to get a complete game on opening day and rarer yet to get a shutout. This, in fact, was the first opening-day shutout since Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets beat the Colorado Rockies in 1993.
"We did a better job against Colon last year," the understated Scioscia said, "but he was the story of the game tonight. Wash came back and settled down after the first inning, but we couldn't do anything with our bats. You tip your cap, turn the page and go on."
Actually, the Angels will have a brief wait before going on.
They are off today before trying to snap a 10-game home losing streak Tuesday night against Sabathia, who was the American League's rookie pitcher of the year in 2001, when he went 17-5. The Indians may not pound the ball as they once did with Alomar, Lofton and Gonzalez gone, but they can still throw their weight around considering Colon and Sabathia are said to tip the scales at more than 550 pounds combined.
In sitting on the Angels in the opener, Colon disappointed the partisans in a sellout crowd attracted by developments of the off-season but still skeptical about a franchise that has not been to the playoffs since 1986. There were boos, in fact, as early as that first inning Sunday night while the visitors--as it always is in Anaheim-- drew pockets of support as they produced a four-run Easter parade that proved to be decisive behind Colon.
The Angel manager understands the way it is in Anaheim and knows only one thing will convince the skeptics.
"The bottom line?" Scioscia said. "We have to win. It's the only thing that will put the Anaheim Angels on the map."
One game in a new season is not enough to say that won't happen, but linked--fairly or not--to the final games of last season, the opener takes on a different tone.