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Sunday, October 01, 2006

The End Of The Weekend Of Death

Salmon's Last Stand: A's 11, Angels 10

We went to today's crazy 11-10 season finale, a poorly played loss that may yet give us some indications for how 2007's roster will play out. For one thing, Reggie Willits looks like he might have a chance at being a major leaguer, albeit not necessarily one you hand a starting job to. His glove in center certainly appears, to this untrained eye, to be a quantum leap over what Chone Figgins is capable of, taking good routes the ball generally, and playing caroms off the wall intelligently. (Baseball Prospectus has another idea, calling him exactly league average, but with the caveat that we have too few innings upon which to judge him defensively.)

For another, we can say Dustin Moseley is not now and will likely in the future never be a major league pitcher. At no time was he even remotely convincing, throwing only 54 strikes among the stupefying 90 pitches he used to scuffle through four innings; his season finishes with a 9.00 ERA over three starts and 11.0 innings. He gave up singles by the bushel. He gave up doubles. He walked a pair of batters. He gave up a jack to Frank Thomas. Putrefying roadkill in the hot Georgia sun doesn't smell this bad.

For the A's, Oakland put their major league roster in for most of the lineup, including putative — and perhaps former — ace Rich Harden. Harden, of course, got shelled in the first inning, giving up consecutive infield singles to lead off the first, including one on a play you will not see in ten seasons of watching professional baseball: with Izturis on first, Reggie Willits slapped a ball on a trajectory that would send it just to the left of second base. Marco Scutaro raced over, caught the ball, and realizing he had no play at second, ran toward first to try for the throw there. Unfortunately, second base umpire Mark Carlson happened to be in the way, and Scutaro tackled him in a manner most ungentlemanly. Of course, Willits arrived safely at first. For his part, Carlson seemed more amused by the incident than injured, though he quickly wagged a finger toward the pitcher for reasons we in the cheap seats could not discern.

It went downhill from there for Harden, at least in that inning; he quickly gave back three runs, and the Angels very nearly got more, as the first four baserunners reached safely, with hero du jour Salmon and then Kennedy recording consecutive walks, Kennedy's driving home Izturis. In fact, Harden surrendered six walks to a team normally hardened against ball four, quite the shock for all of us used to the team's swingin' ways. Imagine, I ask myself, what such a pitcher might do against the Twins, whom I thought somewhat more amenable to the base on balls; yet the Twinkies stand right aside the Angels in walks drawn.

Though Harden seemed settle down some in the second and third, the wildness returned in the fourth when he inexplicably gave up a pair of consecutive walks to Kendry Morales and Curtis Pride, which must be some kind of personal record. He then compounded his mistake by allowing Jeff "Hail Mary" Mathis to connect for a three-run jack into centerfield, only his second major league dinger. Harden then got Tommy Murphy out on a 1-3 groundout, but Maicer Izturis collected his second walk of the day, and, well, that's like getting five cherries on the slot machine if you're the Angels, who to a man hope he'll play this way in 2007, too. Out came Macha, in went Brad Halsey, and two batters later, the Halos were done.

About the fourth inning, the A's started to pull their regulars from the field and at once, the game took on the flavor of a spring training scrimmage, with more substitutions coming along in the sixth. Mike's nine only suffered a single switch the whole afternoon, that of Dallas McStrikeout McPherson for Robb Quinlan, and it was a good thing, too, because we got to see him do something positive for a change, hitting a long opposite field homer off never-was Brad Halsey, whose prior career highlight was being tradebait, in part, for the formerly estimable Randy Johnson.

The Angels strung another couple innings together after jettisoning Mssr. Moseley, whom we will no doubt see providing janitorial duties at spring training next year, or if he is particularly disesteemed by management, on some anonymous minor league backfield. The first was by J.C. Romero, who gave the Angels one good (the fifth) and one bad and partial (the sixth) inning; Greg Jones entered the game, but mysteriously and seemingly instantly (after the first pitch) fell lame, and so found himself relieved by Chris Bootcheck.

Bootcheck's outing, at first a thing to be feared, came down well after he stumbled a bit upon entry. The next inning, he made the first two outs on a 5-4-3 double play, one I had to double-check upon getting home, because how could Dallas McPherson have fielded a ball? Men have been put in the loony bin for admitting to less.

Then in the eighth, Bootcheck got three consecutive flyball outs, and in the ninth, he wobbled through his three, but managed to do so without getting scored upon. So the Angels may have something here. It may be iron pyrite, but again, only in spring training will we know for sure.

In the seventh, Quinlan interrupted a series of meek outs induced by Jay Witasick, including an anticipated Dallas McPherson strikeout, by slamming a pitch over the centerfield fence. And again in the eighth, Jeff Mathis, apparently abducted by aliens, went 3-4 in what has to be the best single performance of his brief major league career, getting a leadoff double off a very shaky Huston Street, whose startling decline seems almost as though he's hiding an injury, or still recovering from the last one. When Maicer Izturis reached on his second infield single of the day, driving in Mathis from third (Tommy Murphy had somehow coaxed a single out of Street inbetween), well, you begin to have thoughts about how well prepared the A's are for the Twins.

The rest of it was really anticlimax; the Angels lost on a string of bad pitches by Donnelly, who didn't bother to bring his control, stuff, or brain to the mound in the tenth. At one point, he shooed off Jeff Mathis, who had run up to the mound as if to start a conference, with a dismissive wave of his glove; Donnelly walked D'Angelo Jimenez on the next pitch. Later, he took a line drive to his midsection, and compounding matters, threw the ball into the dugout, allowing an unearned run to score on the error, perhaps the perfect end to the imperfect season this has been: the last, and game-winning run against the Halos comes on yet another error.

Similarly, Tim Salmon, whose weekend it has been, got to first base only once, on his first inning walk, but popped up in three of his other at bats and hit into an inning-ending double play in the sixth. In the ultimate karmic insult, he finished his career in the on-deck circle, waiting for Reggie Willits to get on base; he never did, popping up to first instead.

So their scrubs beat the Angels' scrubs for a change, so Oakland can go into the postseason with whatever momentum that may carry. As for the Halos, they made the A's just that much later for their flight to Minneapolis, recalling what Rory Markus had to say about Oakland's dreadful record against the Twins in the Metrodome this year, 1-6 or something equally abysmal. Well, as I've said before, good luck with all that.

ESPN BoxRecap

Update: I suppose I should add one more thing. Nate Silver still thinks the Angels could kick some serious postseason ass. Next year, huh?

Update 2: The Salmonalia went on all day between innings, as it had all the other games we've been to in this series, but let us also not forget Brendan Donnelly (whose heroic efforts in the World Series enabled the Angels' title), Darin Erstad (ditto, and for general service), and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS MVP), all about to disappear from the club's roster.

Dodgers Clinch... The Wild Card: Dodgers 4, Giants 3

I was not able to follow the Dodgers game any closer than watching the score on the away scoreboard in right; that the Dodgers trailed so long (from the end of the second through the fifth) left me with the inevitable conclusion that the Padres, with an early 7-0 lead against the Snakes, were about to become the NL Wild Card entrants, although as Jon noted earlier in the week, the Wild Card isn't quite as scary when you realize the Mets don't have Pedro's arm in their arsenal.

Of course, the game itself turned wild late, with the Dodgers getting a run on — of all things — a Julio Lugo RBI single. But it turned out about as I expected. That is to say, my opinion of Lugo was confirmed when he did one-thing-good-one-thing-bad by proceeding to get picked off trying to steal third in the very next at bat. Joe Beimel got the save, the Dodgers got to sweep the Giants on the road to close the season, finishing 7-0 to close out; but for all that good news, the Dodgers console themselves with a title they could have had on their own but for a single win against the Padres.

ESPN BoxRecap

Padres Clinch The Division: Padres 7, Diamondbacks 6

The Padres clung to a 7-0 lead, got mostly in a wild six-run fourth, that they let evaporate into a 7-6 fingerhold over the Snakes; the near-collapse included another pair of consecutive homers off Trevor Hoffman (by Chad Tracy and Conor Jackson) and a freakish play by Cory Snider where the second base umpire at first incorrectly called pinch runner Chris Young safe at second on a fielder's choice, because he was confused as to the state of available force outs. Bruce Bochy apparently ran out to talk to second base umpire Larry Poncino, who eventually corrected himself, and correctly ended the game.

The Padres, who share the Dodgers' 88-74 record, are now the National League's Western Division Champions for the second time in as many years. Congratulations to San Diego for earning, for the first time in their history, back-to-back division titles.


your angel game summary sounded kinda bitter, rob.
Nate Silver's comments are available only to subscribers. How does he rank the Angels?
Hope you're feeling better, Rob. I was really pulling for Salmon to get #300, but regardless he goes down as one of the all time great Angel players, and a classy guy. He should go spend some well-deserved time with his family.

The Angels have a lot of great pieces to play with for next year. I'm already interested to see what Stoneman can do during the offseason to deliver on Moreno's promise.
Anon -- Silver thinks the Angels have the best combination of things that make it possible to go into the postseason and win it all.
His glove in center certainly appears, to this untrained eye, to be a quantum leap over what Chone Figgins is capable of

It's funny...I received the exact opposite impression from Willits in yesterday's game. I was beginning to think this guy could be our CF of the future, and then yesterday, he made three throws from middle center that were so weak and so offline, you had to drop your jaw. He was given an error on one...maybe you missed that. One was easily thirty feet offline and Mathis couldn't get to it and it allowed the runner to advance another base. Furthermore, he had two runs straight to the wall that seemed tentative, and one should have been caught. Another in right-center that carommed off the wall he misjudged an let get past him.

It's not just me and Baseball Prospectus that are noticing. Willits' zone rating plummeted yesterday to .857. I think folks want so badly for this guy to be good that they're just sort of seeing what they want to. I think the "quantum leap over Figgins" comment confirms somewhat this wishful thinking. Maybe it was just a couple bad outings, but I also think people misjudge defense all the time. Figgins recorded defensive ratings in center are well above Willits' this season.
Interesting. I didn't see the play you mention, but I'll take your word for it; as I said, small sample sizes. We don't really know enough yet, and it's important to solve the centerfield conundrum. What I fear is Erstad getting that minor league deal next year and ending up as the starting CF by default after a trade of Figgins and/or Willits.
I for one hope both players are on the club next year. As long as Figgins doesn't hit leadoff, he puts up good numbers and is a weapon.

The Angels could have a formidable bench next year if they go with Izturis, Figgins, Quinlan, and Willits. None are power guys, but any one of them could be inserted into the lineup and make a difference on a daily basis.

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