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Bill Shaikin / ON BASEBALL

Angels are stunned by another early exit

October 07, 2008|Bill Shaikin

BOSTON -- The Angels had walked off the field for the final time this season. All but one of them.

Chone Figgins did not move. He stood alone at third base, hands on hips, staring across the diamond. The Boston Red Sox were full of life, hopping atop each other. Figgins was a portrait in still life.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "Once again, we're on their field, and they're celebrating.

"I'm just wondering: How does this keep happening?"

This was the Angels' year. This was their time.

Yet Boston knocked the Angels out of the playoffs, again. They failed to get back to the World Series, again.

That World-Series-or-bust trade for Mark Teixeira? Bust.

They are the Atlanta Braves for a new generation, an unhappy label not easily removed. This was their chance to stake their claim as an elite franchise, maybe their best chance, maybe the last chance before Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez cash in this winter.

"You can't say we'll be in a position like this again," Torii Hunter said.

There was disappointment and frustration in every corner of the Angels' clubhouse, defiance and anger in some.

"We lost to a team that was not as good as we are," John Lackey said.

Arte Moreno, the owner, refused to be consoled by the Angels' first 100-victory season.

"You win those games because you want to have an opportunity to win a championship," Moreno said. "Let's put it this way: I hate to . . . lose."

As the Angels upgraded from mediocrity to excellence in the early years of this decade, Manager Mike Scioscia repeatedly defined the goal in two words: perennial contender.

They modeled themselves after the Braves, a team that sustained success by replenishing its roster from the minor leagues rather than splurging on free agents every year.

But fans are all about results. When getting into the playoffs becomes routine, bowing out of them better not.

The Braves boast, and rightfully so, about 14 consecutive division championships.

Their fans focus on one World Series victory. That's one for 14, a batting average of .071.

The Angels won the World Series in 2002, with no expectations. They have won four division titles in the six seasons since then.

Their October record, under the weight of expectations: 5-15, including 1-9 against the Red Sox. The Angels have raised the stakes so high that success is measured by the World Series.

"This is extremely disappointing," Scioscia said. "I don't know if I can say it any clearer.

"Our expectations internally are higher than whatever the fans or the media might have for this club."

Those expectations might have to be tempered next season. The American League West should be awful again, but the Angels could be breaking in a closer, a starting pitcher, two infielders and an outfielder.

Teixeira said a lot of nice things after the game, but he did not say the Angels would be his first choice in free agency.

"I wasn't even thinking about Anaheim until I was traded here," Teixeira said. "It's an amazing organization. I have tremendous respect for the organization, from Arte Moreno to the last guy on the bench. It's definitely going to give me something to think about."

Rodriguez did say the Angels would be his first choice.

"No doubt about it," he said. "This has been my family for 10 years. I would love to stay here."

Garret Anderson, the last link to the ownership of Gene Autry, said he had not thought about whether he might have played his last game for the franchise he has represented with distinction since 1994.

"Don't talk to me about business," Anderson said.

Teixeira and Rodriguez could walk. The Angels could spend their money on CC Sabathia and use Kendry Morales at first and Jose Arredondo to close.

The Angels could move Figgins to left field, if they do not bring Anderson back. They have considered whether to compensate for the loss of Teixeira's big bat by installing Brandon Wood in the infield, trying to trade for infielder Dan Uggla of the Florida Marlins, or both.

They also are expected to discuss contract extensions with Vladimir Guerrero and Lackey.

After Lackey gave up two runs and lost Game 1, he pointed the finger at his offense. After he gave up two runs and got no decision in Game 4, he warned against that line of questioning.

"Don't stir the pot," he said.

Yet, when the questioning turned to whether he would wait to see what the Angels did with their offense this winter before considering an extension, Lackey answered with one word.

"Absolutely," he said.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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