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Angels' decline tends to startle

The star quality of the team has come to naught, including Friday night in an 8-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

August 17, 2013|Bill Dwyre

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The Angels made some noise in American League baseball Friday night. They had the postgame fireworks.

Otherwise, this is a team going nowhere. The last rites were administered recently. By the Angels. To themselves. No life support systems left.

The ceremony took place over several series that started with a blown lead against Toronto on a sunny, perfect Southern California Sunday afternoon. Mark Trumbo hit a home run for a lead that, if held, would have been four wins in a row. Then the bullpen did what the bullpen does. Gag. These guys are Santa Ana winds to a forest fire.

Then Texas won three, Cleveland got one of three and the Yankees followed with three of four.

Friday night was more pathos. The Angels lost, 8-2 to the Houston Astros, MLB's current version of the 1962 Mets, whose 40-120 record was sparked by Vinegar Bend Mizell's 7.34 ERA. Houston has a 40-81 record, is 291/2 games out of first place and got consecutive homers in the ninth off Joe Blanton, who makes

$7.5 million this year.

It isn't tragic because it is a game. But it is startling. These guys have a payroll straight out of Fort Knox. There is more star quality here than on one of those red carpet walks for a Hollywood premiere. They had home-grown the next Mickey Mantle in Mike Trout and an answer to Justin Verlander in Jered Weaver. Sadly, they stopped watering the Troy Percival plant.

They had reached deep into the till to get the likes of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson. Peter Bourjos has Olympic speed and was starting to hit before he got hurt. Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick had talent, experience and consistency. Trumbo drove in a lot of runs with homers that left dents in Angel Stadium outfield rocks previously untouched.

It was all there. Expectations were sky high.

And then along came mediocrity, baseball's worst scourge. You can preach patience up to the All-Star break. You cannot if you go 10-18 since then. Try selling that to prospective ticket-buyers. At the moment, there aren't enough Fish Head Nights and Mike Trout Jersey Giveaways to make this team appealing, especially when you have lowballed Trout on salary and Angels fans wince when they see him playing games at Yankee Stadium. He isn't eyeing those pinstripes, is he, Myrtle? How many years till free agency?

The current state of the Angels is an easy film title. "Requiem for a Heavyweight." All you need is Anthony Quinn at third base.

This was also the ultimate opportunity lost. A Los Angeles market could have been raided. Up the 5 Freeway, the beloved, legendary Dodgers were an early-season mess. A bad taste from the Frank McCourt ownership, which invested team profits in personal real estate rather than middle-inning relievers, remained. So did an uneasy trust for the new guys with the big wallets whose big checks, at first, didn't seem to bring big results.

Now the Dodgers are on a tear, a World Series seems possible and Los Angeles is back in love, as it should be. Arte Moreno's marketing venture into areas outside of Orange County has suffered a setback. In this market, the Angels, at least for the moment, are now the Los Angeles Afterthoughts of Anaheim.

Coming into Friday night's game, the Angels were fourth in the AL West at 54-66, which was 151/2 games out of first place. You can almost hear Jim Mora Sr. stepping to a microphone and exclaiming: "Wild card? You kidding me … wild card?"

Even the good news is bad news. There is no easily definable reason for this, nothing obvious to point to. There is no clubhouse lawyer walking locker to locker and poisoning the water. Not even a Manny being Manny. They like each other, want to be where they are and give it a try again here next year.

"That's what makes this harder to swallow," says catcher Hank Conger.

To which Trumbo, acknowledging his team's current sad-sack state, adds, "You play for pride and the other guys."

Manager Mike Scioscia, revered in Los Angeles for being a tough-nosed Dodgers catcher and revered in Orange County for guiding the Angels to the 2002 World Series title, has stayed calm and poised, according to several players.

"He's always positive," says Conger, who characterizes his team's season as embarrassing. "He always brings something new. We win, he's right there afterward, telling us to turn up the music."

Scioscia copes with dignity and humor.

"We're not feeling sorry for ourselves," he says. "We don't want anybody feeling sorry for us."

He is asked how, at the height of his frustration during this summer of his discontent, he managed to not go wild and start tossing bats around the clubhouse.

"Who says I didn't?" Scioscia says, grinning at the thought of such uncharacteristic Scioscia behavior.

Baseball seasons come and go. Some are memorable — this one only for the wonders of Trout and the unfulfilled promise elsewhere.

The Angels excelled mostly in negative areas. Men left on base. Double-play ground balls. Fastballs belt high to Alfonso Soriano.

Conger says you have to hate to lose more than love to win. Scioscia says the Angels didn't keep all the spokes in the wheel.

Friday night's crowd, announced at 39,074, mostly said, when do the fireworks start?

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