Angels players begin to exit the dugout after losing to the Texas Rangers… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
Let's take you out to the ballgame, Angels vintage. No peanuts and crackerjack. Just late-season major league drama and tension.
At 4:15 p.m. Monday, Torii Hunter said his Angels are "95% dead, but 5% alive."
At 4:35, Manager Mike Scioscia said, "We're still breathing."
By 7:15, the gagging, choking, floundering Boston Red Sox had added oxygen. They had managed to lose again. The wild-card spot in the American League that was once an afterthought, a done deal for them, was still not settled. Tampa Bay had beaten the Yankees and was now tied for the wild-card spot, and the Angels, by winning, could stay alive and get themselves within two games of it, with two to go.
Take all the razor blades out of the medicine cabinets in the Red Sox clubhouse.
At precisely 10:10, the Angels had taken their last gasp. Boston had helped all it could, but it wasn't enough for this season's version of the not-quite-good-enough Angels.
It ended on Howie Kendrick's swinging miss of a third strike. He was among their best players all season. They wanted him in that spot, one run down, one runner on. But this was an Angels team that always seemed a tad short, and so it ended exactly that way, on a crisp Monday night, before yet another big (39,716) and adoring crowd at the Big A.
This is September baseball, as Commissioner Bud Selig envisioned it years ago, when he went to the fourth playoff team in each league. He liked the thought of teams, cities and fans, still with a chance, right to the bitter end. People with ulcers or anger management problems who care about baseball need to plan vacations in Europe, starting in mid-September.
Before the game, the Angels' hopes could have been summed up in Al Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles?" As the night went on, Lewis Carroll's line from "Alice in Wonderland" became more fitting. Things got "curiouser and curiouser."
This had been anticipated for weeks as the grand three-game finale. Division leader Texas was coming to the Big A for the last three games of the regular season. For a long time, the second-place Angels had stayed close enough to make that showdown viable. But in the last two weeks, they started matching Boston, mediocrity for mediocrity, and Texas clinched the division title. The Angels stayed in the wild-card race only because Boston was a tad more mediocre.
The three-game grand finale turned into must-win desperation for the Angels and a three-game workout for the Rangers.
Texas started 16-7 ace C.J. Wilson and let him pitch only the first two innings. For the Angels, it was all about winning. For the Rangers, it was about getting Wilson stretched out for about an hour. Interestingly, it had been Wilson who had thrown down the gauntlet last season, after nearly a decade of dominance by the Angels in the West, when he said, "We're better than they are." Then the Rangers won the division and went all the way to the World Series.
The Rangers got a run in the first inning when Angels catcher Jeff Mathis had a passed ball and then uncorked a wild throw to first base on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Mathis entered the game with a .179 batting average, among the worst of any regular major league player. His value, we are told, is defense. Go figure; 1-0 Rangers.
In the Angels' first, with runners on second and third, Vernon Wells popped out. Wells is being paid enough to buy his own small country. He is struggling to get his batting average above .220 this season. Go figure.
In the second, with two on and one out, Mathis flied out to right.
How many times this season have Wells and Mathis killed rallies? Consider it a rhetorical question.
The Angels got the ever-loyal crowd excited in the sixth. Hunter, the ever-dependable, started it with a double and Bobby Abreu, pinch-hitting for Mathis, forced one run in by working a walk with the bases loaded. But Maicer Izturis popped out with the bases still loaded and the Rangers still led, 3-2.
It was a typical 2011 Angels moment. They got opportunities in gushes and scored runs in trickles.
And when Michael Young delivered a run-scoring single in the eighth, the dagger was firmly in place in the heart of the Angels. In other seasons, overcoming a 4-2 lead was a small hill. This year's team treated it like Mt. Everest.
The summer of discontent will now turn into a winter of speculation. The Angels are a team in need of repair, not reconstruction. There are untouchables, pending a major trade. The untouchables include Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo, Erick Aybar, Hunter, Kendrick, young Mike Trout and pitching aces Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.
There are huge questions: Can Kendrys Morales come back and play at the level he did in 2009? Can Trumbo find a regular spot somewhere else? Or is Morales trade bait? Can the Angels please fix the catching spot? Will they end up with a designated hitting platoon of right-handed Wells and left-handed Abreu?
And with the exception of Scott Downs, could they take some cleaning solution to the bullpen?
The 2011 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were exciting, intriguing and frustrating to watch. Lots of promise and too little delivery.
How many days until spring training?