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Ervin Santana's no-hitter should spark well-deserved interest in the Angels

Just when detractors had forecast a boring summer of baseball in the Southland, along comes the pitcher's gem and a reason to keep an eye on the club's legitimate chase for a spot in the playoffs.

July 27, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Angels starter Ervin Santana, center, celebrates with his teammates after throwing a no-hitter in a 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.
Angels starter Ervin Santana, center, celebrates with his teammates after… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)

Baseball season challenges our attention span. It can be a 162-game drone. In Los Angeles, multiply that by two.

Before Wednesday, the Dodgers were a well-documented disaster, the stories more about loans and bankruptcy than wins and losses.

As for the Angels, most of the time they were more confusing than compelling.

You'd get solid pitching and little hitting, day after day. Texas went on a hot streak and the Angels seemed unable to close the gap. It was a team of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, and had their last names rhymed properly it would have been the 2011 version of Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.

Then came Wednesday's bolt of lightning.

Ervin Santana threw a no-hitter at the Cleveland Indians. Not Weaver. Not Haren. Ervin Santana. It was done before lots of us on the West Coast had figured out what to order for lunch. The noon start in the East gave Santana and the Angels an entire day to dominate the sports headlines.

It was the kind of thing that can jump-start a team, and this is the kind of team that has needed a jolt for several months.

Santana's gem made his team 57-48. Before the rest of baseball played Wednesday, there were only three teams in the American League and three teams in the National League with better records. Manager Mike Scioscia's group has been quietly proficient, hardly the stuff of big tabloid headlines, but the kind of consistency that puts you in position to make the playoffs.

Nobody's picking the Angels to win the World Series, or even get there. In the AL West, all eyes are on the Rangers, who got to the World Series last year and are leading the division again. Nobody is even looking that hard at the Angels for the postseason.

On a local sports-talk radio show the other night, the subject was Los Angeles teams in the doldrums. The theme: The Dodgers are dead, Kobe and the Lakers were a disappointment and may be too old for another championship run, Blake Griffin could be huge if he weren't a Clipper, we have no NFL team and "the Angels won't make the playoffs."

Maybe Santana has now made that less of a given.

The Angels do it the Scioscia way. If patience is indeed a virtue, then Scioscia will be accorded sainthood someday. His team has won 11 of its last 12 series. It edges forward, bit by bit. Step by step. Two out of three, three out of four.

A nice 15-game winning streak would be a lot flashier, but Scioscia left his last baseball flash and dazzle in the form of the last crumpled guy he blocked at the plate years ago as an All-Star catcher for the Dodgers.

You can bet that all the players knew Wednesday, despite the joy of the no-hitter, that there would be no repeat of the out-of-control celebration after Kendrys Morales walkoff, grand slam last year that resulted in their star power hitter sitting out part of last season and all of this one.

The Angels are the ultimate believers, as preached to daily by Scioscia, that a long baseball season cannot be approached as a sprint.

These are the fly-beneath-the-radar Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

But no more. At least not until the Santana buzz wears off.

His feat leads to looking at Weaver and Haren, and even the progress of young starter Tyler Chatwood. And pretty soon discussions can begin about the rock-solid play of Howie Kendrick at second base, the recent power-hitting surge of Vernon Wells, and the nightly plays made by bullet-train Peter Bourjos in center field.

Suddenly, the Los Angeles sports doldrums in the summer of 2011 look less foreboding. There is hope, a team to follow, an expectation of something good ahead.

Get out your calendars. In the months of August and September, the Angels play the Texas Rangers 10 times, four at home. Also, in a possible playoff preview, they play the New York Yankees six times, three of them at home.

It could all dribble away, of course, like so many Angels innings that seem to end up with men left standing on base.

But for a magic moment or two, Ervin Santana got our attention, and the L.A. sports market sure needed that.

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