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Angels are a model of efficiency in opener

BILL DWYRE

While the miracle of Manny plays to bigger headlines for the Dodgers, the Angels quietly go about their business of winning a lot.

April 07, 2009|BILL DWYRE

They cut the nets down on the college basketball show just in time. It's baseball season. Spring has sprung.

You can always tell when it's time to get outside for the crack of bat against ball. It's when the Lakers are down to their last 30 or 40 games.

The Angels opened at Angel Stadium on Monday night. Last year, they won 100 games, most in the majors. They are on pace to go 162-0 this year. They beat the Oakland Athletics in the opener, 3-0, and 43,220 turned out on a pleasant, windless evening.

That was a sellout. What more could you expect?

While the Miracle of Manny plays to bigger headlines and headaches into its second season at Chavez Ravine, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim quietly go about their business of winning a lot. Their only flaw since their World Series title in 2002 is coming through in the postseason.

Which is a pretty big flaw.

But the travails of October-next were too far in the distance to detract from Monday night. Players from both teams lined the baselines for pregame introductions and two jets flew overhead on cue, as the national anthem ended with the crowd on its feet.

The applause for the A's was courteous, except for the introduction of Jason Giambi, whose admitted steroid use has been well-documented. Giambi was booed then, and for each trip to the plate. Maybe the fans are finally going to take care of this performance-enhancing drug issue themselves. Poor A-Rod.

The applause for the Angels was enthusiastic, but if you had an applause meter, chances are the most noise went for the manager in his 10th go-around here. Yes, Mike Scioscia is that popular.

The Angels honored their longtime scout and consultant, Preston Gomez, with film clips and a ceremony before the game. Gomez died in January, and players and coaches are wearing triangular patches with the word "Preston" on their uniforms. The Angels are a franchise that tends to do it right.

There were some missing faces. No more Frankie, no more G.A., no more Mark Teixeira. But as far as Monday night's result, and expectations for the season, no matter.

Francisco Rodriguez got a big contract to go to the New York Mets and is already herky-jerking his way to saves with his new team.

Garret Anderson played a full 13 seasons with the Angels, as well as parts of two more, and when his professional family said it was time to say goodbye, he took it like a pro and is now the Atlanta Braves' left fielder.

Teixeira, great player and decent guy, took the money and ran to the Yankees. He was a half-a-season hired gun in Anaheim. See ya.

Torii Hunter and Chone Figgins said they are in frequent contact with Anderson. Uniforms change, friends don't.

"I'm not going to let him quit until he gets 3,000 hits," said Figgins, who could then go to Anderson's Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

The game ended in a slick 2 hours 29 minutes. The kids were home and in bed with plenty of rest for school today. If baseball could clone this game, it would have the magic formula.

The game ended fittingly with Hunter's running down a deep drive in right center field. Tonight, he will be presented with his eighth consecutive Golden Glove award as the best defensive center fielder in the American League.

For Hunter, this is a much more comfortable time than a year ago. He had left the Minnesota Twins, after 10 years in that organization, because the Angels offered him five more years and the Twins three. He was hugely popular in the Twin Cities, and when the schedule came out, the Angels went to Minneapolis for their opener.

"That was weird," Hunter says now. "I loved the place, the fans were always great to me, but I had to make a business decision. That was tough, but now that's over."

Also over for Hunter are snow piles and icy roads. Last year's Angels-Twins opener was played on a day when temperatures in the Twin Cities hovered around 10 degrees -- or about 65 degrees lower than game time Monday night in Anaheim -- and snow fell all day. The Twins have a dome now but move into an open-air stadium next year.

"Can you imagine, no dome and baseball in Minnesota in April?" Hunter says.

Howie Kendrick drove in two of the Angels' three runs, one with a towering homer, and left-hander Joe Saunders went 6 2/3 innings and left after 93 pitches, Scioscia doing what managers do these days -- saving a pitcher's arm instead of letting him try for a shutout.

Rodriguez's replacement for the late-inning drama, lefty Brian Fuentes, closed out the ninth in order. He wasn't anywhere near as demonstrative as Rodriguez. Just efficient, like his team.

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bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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