Sunday, September 23, 2007
Happy Birthday To Me, Or, Fan Appreciation Day: Angels 7, Mariners 4
After a weak first inning, the Angels started smacking around Jeff Weaver in the second, with Casey Kotchman and Maicer Izturis both homering, Izzy's a two-run shot thanks to a four-pitch walk given up to Gary Matthews, Jr. But Weaver actually buckled down, made the pitches he needed to, and got out of several of his own self-induced jams. Those included a balk and three hit batters, Howie Kendrick accounting for two of those, the second time getting Weaver the hook from his manager, John McLaren.
Sean Green proceeded to make Weaver's line worse by walking the first batter he faced, and surrendering a sac fly to Chone Figgins, and an RBI single to Orlando Cabrera. The Angels put a couple more runs up in the seventh a leadoff single by Kotchman. Matthews, Jr. reached on a fielding error by Beltre, and Izturis followed that up with a single that ended with one of the weirdest baserunning blunders you'll ever see. GMJ lost track of whether to advance or not, and ran to third, thinking Kotchman was being waved home. Dino Ebel had held up Kotch, and by the time he realized his mistake, GMJ was out at third. Not a good play from a guy who definitely should know better.
The first out of the seventh thus earned in circus fashion, Kendrick plated Kotchman on a long RBI single, but made the last out of the inning at third trying to advance on Chone Figgins' sac fly, the second of the game. (What was that homily about never making the last out of the inning at third?)
That was it for the Angels. After Lackey left, Mike brought in Scot Shields, and for one and only one batter, we figured he was in pretty good shape, getting Ichiro to strike out on a 3-2 count pitch. But Shields looked wobbly thereafter, giving up two hits and a walk before Sosh pulled the plug on him, too, in favor of Justin Speier, who eventually finished the inning, but not before allowing two of his inherited runners to score on wild pitches. Combined with a passed ball in the fifth, it was a tough game for Jeff Mathis, who wasn't exactly on top of things defensively; according to the radio announcers, who probably had a better view than we did, Mathis should have caught all of those (and certainly his passed ball was right off the mitt).
Good Frankie made it to the mound, and retired the 7-8-9 batters in order, so we all got to watch as the Angels did the usual celebratory pile-on on the mound. Afterwards, Arte Moreno made the handshake line going back into the dugout, and fan appreciation day seems to have taken on a new meaning, what with the fireworks and the postseason coming up.
The Rev points out this is the earliest clinching date in Angels history. Coincidentally, Lackey was also on the mound when the Angels clinched the Wild Card on the road against Texas on Sep. 26, 2002. I wonder what happened to Todd Van Poppel.
Something I forgot to mention yesterday: with the victory yesterday, the Mariners have a winning season for the first time in four years. That's an important thing for their franchise, but what it also reminds me is that the 2002 Angels team came out of a division that had an improbable three 90-game winners. The Angels then were better prepared for their postseason run, perhaps; not that this M's squad is a bunch of patsies (or why a split at home?), but when the Angels' nearest competition is just a few games over .500, it doesn't speak well of the division. I suspect the M's will muddle along, though they're starting to get whispers of better prospects coming through their system, albeit at the lower levels. Next year, Oakland will be better, too, at least, that's what I suspect.
But now, and maybe for a few more years, the Angels are the ones to beat in this division. If only Autry could see it.
Finally: there's a sense of magic I'm missing about this, about how lucky and amazing it all is to see a division winner, year after (mostly) year. I don't mean to let this rarity go unnoticed or unremarked upon. Thanks to Arte Moreno, Bill Stoneman, Mike Scioscia, and everyone on the field and off who made this possible.
Postscriptum: Jeff at Lookout Landing gives his grumbled congratulations:
Congratulations to the Angels, a very well-run organization from top to bottom that deserves to be where it is. They're the best team in the division by a comfortable margin, and, thanks to a strong system and a reasonably young Major League core, stand to have targets on their backs for the next several years. I don't like them, but I respect them, because they do a lot of things well, and serve as a pretty good model of how one should go about building a successful and self-sustainable franchise. As much as we joke about Darin Erstad, Reggie Willits, and some of the things they value in a player, I don't think there's a single one of us who doesn't wish our front office were even half as competent.