Friday, April 08, 2005

Angels Edge Rangers in Game, Series

In a spectacularly close series to open the 2005 season, the Angels win two of three games from Texas by taking the Thursday night affair 7-6 on a walk-off single from Steve Finley. The Rangers had tied the game in the top of the ninth by manufacturing a run against Scot Shields, in to close the game with Frankie Rodriguez designated "unavailable" by Manager Mike Scioscia due to his heavy workload in the past two games. Shields was wild, walking two and throwing to wild pitches to give the Rangers runners at the corners with one out while down by a run. Michael Young came through with a clutch two-out single to plate the tying run but Shields induced an inning ending groundout to Darin Erstad that erased the threat.

Just how close was this series, well the Angels edged Texas in combined score 12-11. Game two on Wednesday took twelve innings to decide as both teams burned through their respective bullpens enroute to Texas' eventual 3-2 victory. The Angels won by the same score the night before but Thursday was setting up to be a much higher scoring affair for several reasons. The starting pitchers featured a notorious slow starter in John Lackey and a fairly unproven rookie in Chris Young. Both bullpens had been exhausted by the extra-inning game on Wednesday and both of these teams feature explosive offenses. The Angels were able to get to Young early, posting two runs in the first and adding a third the next inning. But what was surprising was the effectiveness of John Lackey. The big Texan held the Rangers hitless through four innings but the feeling of inevitable doom was palpable. The first hit came in the fifth as Richard Hidalgo's grouder skirted past a diving Orlando Cabrera into centerfield. You could almost feel Lackey's composure melt like Tammy Faye's makeup on pledge-drive night. Lackey then engaged rookie Adrian Gonzalez in a 13-pitch marathon at bat, eventually walking him. That set the stage for David Delucci's one-out double to score both runners and trim the Halo lead to 3-2. One bright spot in the ugly 5th: Robb Quinlan make a nice play on a ball hit down the line and then made an excellent spot-on through to Erstad for the first out. That would have been a perfect spot for a boot that likely would have led to Lackey's complete demise, instead it just prolonged it. Lackey then walked Soriano which was followed by a Blalock double, scoring Delucci and giving the Rangers runners at the corners. Lackey, sweat dripping like a politician in church, coughs up a wild pitch that scores Soriano and Scioscia, like the rest of Angel fans everywhere, finally had enough. In comes Esteban Yan who gets Teixeira to ground out to first to end the inning.

The Angels and Ranger bullpens both were questionable in this series which is a bit surprising since both were considered strengths for their respective ball clubs. Most disturbing for the Angels was the ineffectiveness of Shields and Donnelly, both of which have given up runs on consecutive nights. Even more shocking: the effectiveness of the much-maligned Esteban Yan. A guy who was torched in the spring and likely was a contributing factor in the Angels acquisition of another questionable arm: Bret Prinz. But for the second night in a row Yan looked like a man among boys in the Angels bullpen as he shutdown the Rangers and provided a stop when they needed it most.

But it is early and the bullpen will likely work themselves into form. The Rangers are a pesky team that gave the Angels fits last year, including a four-game sweep in Texas early. The Angels have to feel good about themselves to start the year 2-1 against a tough slapped them around pretty good last season. We knew the Rangers could hit but the good pitching from Drese, Rogers and Young was not expected. What will really be telling will be the bottom of the rotation for both teams. The Angels send new starter Paul Byrd to the hill tomorrow against the Royals while the Rangers turn to veteran reclamation project Chan Ho Park against former Angel, Ranger and Mariner and new Seattle veteran reclamation project, Aaron Sele.

Game Gripe: Fox named Steve Finley their "Player of the Game" for blowing a squeeze bunt but then getting the walk-off ground ball single that won the game. How about Bengie Molina's three-run bomb that brought LA back from a 4-3 deficit to a 6-4 lead? Not to mention some pretty solid defense on a night where Lackey and Shields were wilder than Charlie Sheen at the MTV Beach House.

Angels on Fire: The aforementioned Molina now hitting .400 with a .455 OBP and .700 SLG! If only that could extend out for a season (hell, I'd take a month), Garrett Anderson .357 with 2 doubles (that would be a double-double. I smell In-N-Out promo, Vlad Guerrero .308 with a big HR on opening night.

Ice Ice Angels: Chone Figgins .000 - tough to steal bases from the bench, Robb Quinlan .111 - anyone heard how McPherson is doing? Anyone? Bueller? Steve Finley .222 - another notorious late starter but c'mon Stevie, lay down the bunt when the game is on the line.

Impressions after the inaugural series: These were two pretty evenly matched teams. The Angels you expect to come through in the clutch did (Vlad, Bengie, Garrett). Starting pitching was good, not great and the bullpen underperformed. Saying all that and you still take 2 of 3 from a tough divisional is good. Bring on the Royals and hopefully some rest for the bullpen and some easy hits for Finley, Figgins and Quinlan. Maybe even a start for Maicer Izturis at third.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice for B. Molina to come through, but I don't think we can count on it. We need some help from Finley and Figgins - I don't think anyone expects much from Erstad anymore,right?

3:35 PM  
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