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BILL DWYRE

Angels keep fans on edge of their seats

Just when Angels fans, with a look at all the good things going on Thursday, thought it was safe to go back in the water after last season's 80-82 record, they got bitten again Friday night, Bill Dwyre writes.

April 01, 2011|Bill Dwyre

There are 160 games to go in the Angels' season, and one thing already seems clear. Their fans will need to up the valium dosage.

This isn't a baseball team. It's a nightly root canal. It offers great expectations and delivers great headaches.

They won't come off the road for their home opener until Friday. By then — gauging from the first two games in Kansas City against a Royals team unlikely to ever be compared to the 1927 Yankees — they will have already established a record pace for causing nervous breakdowns among their faithful.

Thursday's 4-2 opener victory was heaven. Friday's 2-1 loss was hell.

Just when Angels fans, with a look at all the good things going on Thursday, thought it was safe to go back in the water after last season's 80-82 record, they got bitten again Friday night.

If it stays like this all season, owner Arte Moreno may need to employ roving psychologists for home games at the Big A. They can carry around paper bags for people to blow into.

Yes, it's early. Two games do not establish a trend. But if things continue like this, the biggest postgame story in Anaheim this summer will be fans tearing their hair out. Billy MacDonald can do nightly interviews: "So, Joe from Santa Ana, they tell me you've been an Angels fan for 20 years and you had all your hair until yesterday. What happened?"

Let us recap the first games, a.k.a. the good, the bad and the ugly.

In the 4-2 victory Thursday night, the guy who is supposed to be the star of the team was. Torii Hunter hit a home run to center field that was picked up on radar at Kansas City International Airport. Hunter stepped into the batter's box for the first time this season with a huge smile on his face. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and Hunter's face says that every time the TV cameras find him.

He also made a running, diving, face-plant catch in right field and got up smiling. Also wincing. He is, after all, 35 years old.

Ace pitcher Jered Weaver continued to be just that. He led the league in strikeouts last year with 233 and had the Royals befuddled all day.

Howie Kendrick was solid at second base and produced Friday night's only Angels run with a homer. New acquisition Vernon Wells, a veteran who can hit and field and showed the latter skill with a leaping catch Friday night, should fit right in. And young center fielder Peter Bourjos, who may break his maiden soon at Santa Anita, looks like he may hit as well as run this season.

Then there is catcher Jeff Mathis, who apparently was good enough on defense for Manager Mike Scioscia to trade away Mike Napoli and his big bat. On Thursday, it appeared that Mathis, on his 28th birthday, had either seen the light or the younger faces of Bobby Wilson and Hank Conger, sitting on the bench and fondling their chest protectors.

Mathis, a highly recruited high school quarterback, looked as if he was going to play that position for the Angels now. He handled Weaver beautifully, had two hits, including a home run, and literally cajoled and willed a victory out of the collection of characters Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher summon from the bullpen nightly.

The other teams start a bonfire and Methanol follows Ethanol to the mound, as starters such as Weaver and Friday night's Dan Haren chew their fingernails in the dugout. On Thursday night, after Weaver left the Royals swatting at flies and Scioscia played it by the book and yanked him based on pitch count, the nightly Angels high-wire act began.

To their credit, Mike Kohn and Fernando Rodney managed to stomp out the flames. Not Friday night, when Kohn gave up the walk-off homer in the ninth that beat the Angels and sent fans to the medicine cabinet once again.

What you see is seldom what you get with these Angels. In 2009, until a pop-up dropped between third baseman Chone Figgins and shortstop Erick Aybar on a cold night in Yankee Stadium during the American League Championship series and the Angels seemed to take on a deer-in-the-headlights look ever since, Scioscia's men in red were productive, annoying gnats. They'd go first-to-third on a deep bunt. They'd beat you on Tuesday with 15 broken-bat singles and on Wednesday with six bombs off the scoreboard.

Now, they seem to be like their quarterback. Mathis swung the bat like Johnny Bench on Thursday night. Friday night, he swung it like a guy who should be sitting on one. Thursday, he threw out a guy stealing second. Friday, on the same play, he got it nicely on a couple of hops to Bourjos in center.

In 2009, Frankie Rodriguez would come out of the bullpen and the guys in the opposing bullpen would start gathering their bats and gloves and heading down the tunnel to the clubhouse. Last year, they hung on the dugout steps in delight as Methanol and Ethanol, maybe followed by Premium and Unleaded, paraded in. Perhaps the baseball stat of the year: The Angels bullpen walked 233 batters in 436 innings and threw 42 wild pitches last season.

Already, we have two great outings by starters Weaver and Haren and a walk-off homer against the bullpen.

There are solutions. One is prayer — for Scioscia. He is the dean of major league managers, in his 12th season, and is only 52. But one more year like last year and he will be allowed to collect Social Security.

The others are deep breaths and meditation.

Also, the reincarnation — with a bionic arm — of Troy Percival.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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