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BILL DWYRE

Angels, season are still warming up

'There's never been a pennant won in the first two week of the season,' second baseman Howie Kendrick reminds us.

April 11, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • A young Angels fan waves a rally monkey during the game against the Cleveland Indians on Monday night at Angel Stadium.
A young Angels fan waves a rally monkey during the game against the Cleveland… (Kirby Lee / US Presswire )

It is Monday night at the Big A, the 10th game of 2011 for the Angels. It is Seinfeld season, where they play games about nothing.

Or, as hot-hitting Howie Kendrick says, "There's never been a pennant won in the first two weeks of the season."

The early season is an integral part of the rhythm of the game of baseball. Pitchers have to warm up, and so does the season. Every game counts, but those in September and October count more. That's not mathematics, just sentiment.

Before the game, Kendrick is reminded that division rival Texas has started its season 9-1, considerably better than the Angels' 5-4. He shrugs and sniffs.

The Angels start right-hander Tyler Chatwood against the Cleveland Indians. He is 21 and this is his major league debut.

"He'll probably throw up a couple of times before he goes out there," says Torii Hunter, the Angels' star right fielder, who is in his 13th major league season.

Chatwood is getting his shot because Joel Pineiro is on the disabled list; so is Scott Kazmir, who appears unable to get anybody out anymore, and Manager Mike Scioscia needs a fifth starter this week.

"His talent is real," Scioscia says of Chatwood before the game.

A reporter asks whether Scioscia has any trepidation with Chatwood and catcher Hank Conger, 23, as his battery. Scioscia asks the reporter to define "trepidation," then laughs. Good thing he didn't ask the reporter whether he could spell it.

On the eighth pitch of his major league career, Chatwood watches Asdrubal Cabrera's towering blast to center field. Peter Bourjos, faster than a speeding bullet in center, unfortunately can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, and the ball clears the fence.

Chatwood leaves after five innings. He has given up four hits, four earned runs and two home runs, as well as striking out three and walking four. He has thrown 90 pitches, only 46 of them strikes.

School is still in session, and so the crowd is only 32,864. The Angels sell out regularly and have attracted 163,755 in four home dates. But you'd need the reincarnation of Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth to sell much more on a Monday night in April, even in warm Southern California.

Up in the Bay Area, a jury continues deliberations in the Barry Bonds perjury trial. Also, the Dodgers come to San Francisco to play the first game since the opening day tragedy at Dodger Stadium, when a man wearing a Giants jersey was attacked in the parking lot after the game and suffered serious head damage. No Seinfeld episodes there. Those things matter.

But at the Big A, the rhythm of baseball in April saunters along with an absence of significance.

Kendrick scratches out an infield single in the third inning and has now hit safely in nine of 10 games. He enters the game leading the league with 29 total bases. After his hit in the third, his average jumps to .395, but by game's end, it is .375. Numbers like that also speak to the fickle nature of the early season.

Kendrick also enters the game tied for second in the league with four home runs. A website that does such things puts the over-under on Kendrick's season home-run total at 10. He calls what he has done already in April "four accidents."

There is plenty of pregame time for storytelling.

Relief pitcher Jason Bulger, whose scoreless stint in Saturday night's 14-inning, five-hour-plus marathon helped bring a 6-5 Angels victory, recalled how he came to be a pitcher.

"It was my junior year at Valdosta State [in Georgia]," he says. "It was late in the season, we were running out of pitchers in a game, and I was playing third base, just minding my business. My roommate was on the team, and he suggested to the coach that he should bring me in. He called me to the mound and I had no idea what was about to happen. He told me to finish up, I did, and from then on, I was a relief pitcher.

"It was a life-changing moment."

Bulger, one of the few college graduates in the major leagues, was drafted in the first round of the 2001 major league draft. Also picked in the same draft were his brothers, Brian and Kevin. Jason is the family's surviving major leaguer.

On the subject of young Chatwood, Hunter is asked about his first major league appearance.

"Pinch runner, 1997," he says. "There was a grounder and there I was, a minor league making $950 a month, going into second base on shortstop Mike Bordick, a guy making $3 million. I took him out."

Hunter smiled that grin that has made him millions and attracted a similar number of fans to watch him play.

The game was over in 2 hours 25 minutes. You won't find many of those in September.

The Indians went to 8-2 with a 4-0 victory, leaving the Angels at 5-5.

Their right hander, Mitch Talbot, gave up four hits in eight innings, threw 72 strikes in his 112 pitch count and looked like the next coming of Cy Young.

That happens in April.

The Angels' big off-season acquisition, Vernon Wells, went 0 for 4 and saw his average slip to .091.

So does that.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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