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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Sophomore Slump: Angels 8, Mariners 6

This was supposed to be a big pitcher's duel, with a low score to go with it. Instead, it turned into a slugfest with the Angels picking up their fourth three-homer game of the year, against "King" Felix Hernandez. The three longballs were the first he's given up all year, and only the second time in his career he's given up three in one game, the last time being almost exactly a year ago on June 6, 2006, against the Giants. All of them were solo shots, to Barry Bonds, Randy Winn, and Steve Finley, so they didn't hurt so much as these did today.

That's because Hernandez was giving up a lot of baserunners. The top of the Angels' order did exactly what it needed to do against the M's, going a collective 7-for-12 with three walks. Those hits included Vlad's opposite field, two-strike, three-run blast in the fifth, which brings me to another point: the top three of the order scored six of the Angels' eight runs. Gary Matthews, Jr. wasn't consistent with the bat, striking out twice and receiving an intentional pass in the seventh, but his big three-run homer in the first more than made up for it.

Jered Weaver posted one of his more forgettable performances of the year. His alleged hallmark, command, was once again very poor, giving up first-pitch balls to 12 of the 28 batters he faced, and walking three while striking out an equal number. That's pretty similar to his May 25 outing against New York, in which he gave up first-pitch balls on 11 of 24 batters, though he ended up striking out five through five innings. He's had good games here and there, but it seems like his A command is still waiting to be found somewhere.

Two of Weaver's three walks came back to bite him, Raul Ibanez's in the first and Ben Broussard's in the fourth. His big inning, the knockout blow for Weaver, was the Yuniesky Betancourt RBI single that drove in Adrian Beltre with two out. Dustin Moseley came in and restored order... sort of, though it wasn't Moseley but Napoli who, uncharacteristically, managed to throw out would-be base stealer Betancourt.

Matthews, Jr. did his best to keep Weaver in the game, making several sparkling plays, including an "oh, God, that's a bases-clearing doub — no, wait, it's a lineout at the warning track" on Kenji Johjima that prevented a total disaster in the fifth.

Finally, a few words about the bullpen. Dustin Moseley gave up a run in the sixth on a leadoff walk to Jose Lopez, but he retired four straight batters starting with Jose Guillen to keep the Angels in the game. It might be fair to say that Hector Carrasco is in danger of losing his swingman-in-a-close-game role to Moseley. Scot Shields pitched a fantastic eighth, striking out two. While Frankie's ninth was less-than-perfect (he had his B command and walked leadoff batter Jose Vidro), he struck out the side and preserved the win.

Erick Aybar played third for the first time in his professional career, and wouldn't you know it but the very first at-bat ended with a bullet hit to him off Ichiro's bat that he turned in a fine defensive play to make the out. Offensively, Aybar contributed only a sac bunt in the bottom of the eighth, but unfortunately he still represents an improvement over the fatally slumping Chone Figgins. It has been suggested elsewhere that one of the Angels' most crucial errors this season was limiting Figgins' rehab stint. I'm not sure but that their hands were forced by the CBA on this one, but regardless, he clearly can't do any damage at the plate, the odd home run here or there notwithstanding.

Casey Kotchman also homered, a solo shot directly following GMJ's in the first, and got lifted for Robb Quinlan in the seventh when the M's brought in George "Death to Lefties" Sherrill. Q hit a "sac fly" that really reached no-man's land, which Betancourt managed to catch. With the M's shortstop's back turned to the infield, Reggie Willits was able to score from third, and the Angels plated an insurance run. The dramatic catch made up, somewhat, for the missed grounder hit straight at him in the first by Vlad; I was shocked the official scorer didn't call it E6. Oh, well.

In general, it's been an interesting series. The M's are playing much better lately than they have over the last couple of years, as their second-place status (and winning record) attests. I didn't think much of the team as assembled before the season started, but some things are gelling for them, their bullpen especially, and the hitting to some degree as well. If they finish anywhere close to their current winning percentage, it'll be the first time since 2003 they've had a non-losing record.

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They had 3 home runs May 13, 22, and 23.
Thanks, I forgot to double-check that "fact".
Also, Casey's homer came right after Gary Matthews', not Vlad's.
Willits scored on the Q sac fly, not Napoli.
Goddammit I hate it when I make so many errors. What I get for reading off my (traditional) scorebook, though the GMJ/Kotchman order shouldn't have been a problem.

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