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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mike Napoli's Big Day: Angels 10, Dodgers 2

No sooner had I got done griping about the Angels' picayune offense of late then Mike Napoli came up to slug a pair of homers and drive in a career high five runs. Given how badly Vlad Guerrero has been hitting, the thought of putting Napoli in the four hole occurred to me, but then, you'd be waiting quite a while before that resulted in a positive outcome, given the Napster's proclivity to the Wrong Event of the Three True Outcomes, the strikeout. But lo, could it be that the youth is learning something? Let's take a look at his K/AB rate over his brief career:

Year    K   AB  K/AB
2006   90  268  .336
2007   63  219  .288
2008   24   85  .282

Hey, look: the last number is going in the right direction! (2008 figures are prior to today's game.) Okay, sure, it's a small sample size, and it's not going down by that much, but for a guy who appears to be homering at a pretty darned prolific rate, Naps is learning to strike out a lot less.

Napoli wasn't just outstanding with the stick, either, as he managed to throw out Juan Pierre following a leadoff walk in the first on a prescient 0-0 count pitchout. Considering that Jered Weaver walked Pierre on five pitches, that was huge, even more so because it seemed early on that Weaver had once more lost the velocity on his fastball; none of the pitches to Pierre were even 90 MPH. But he shortly thereafter got his mojo back, and was dialing it back up to 92 against Andre Ethier, and next thing you know, the Weav had faced the minimum through three, even striking out five straight in the second and third innings.

Derek Lowe was clearly groping throughout the game, giving up a solid leadoff single to Maicer Izturis in the first. Russ Martin erased him on a really bad steal attempt that neatly echoed the Pierre caught stealing in the top of the frame, and so Lowe settled down to get the next two batters in order. Lowe would only repeat that feat one more time in the game, but in the second he gave up a four-pitch, one-out walk to Torii Hunter, and an 0-2 count single to Casey Kotchman, putting men on the corners for slap-hitting Erick Aybar. Aybar, struggling mightily this month, hit into what should have been a fielder's choice — to third. James Loney then got another brain cramp of the same sort that afflicted him on Friday night, and threw the ball into center field, allowing Hunter to score from second and Aybar to reach. That set the stage for Napoli, who crushed an 0-2 pitch into the left field bullpen to give the Angels a 4-0 lead they would not relinquish.

Weaver tends to get a little outside himself whenever he isn't perfect. In this, he reminds me of myself, and you could tell the fourth was going to get rough right after he took his eye off Juan Pierre's swinging bunt. Weaver got his glove on the ball but overran it without fielding it, and so Pierre reached on an infield single. Weaver then managed to strike out Andre Ethier, and appeared to settle down, but another swinging bunt to Russ Martin put a pair on. Joe Torre then elected to try for a double steal — successfully, as it turned out, for Weaver is notoriously easy to steal on — and Jeff Kent singled both of them home. Weaver didn't make another out until he got Matt Kemp and Blake DeWitt in succession, but he'd thrown thirty-something pitches and was laboring a bit.

The Angels got one more back in the fourth, with Napoli driving in Kotchman from second on an RBI single. (The big Halos catcher then erased himself on an ill-advised steal attempt; what was he trying to do, send a message to Martin, "And I can steal bases, too!"?) The Angels got two more in the fifth, all on four singles, including the wild final play that drove in GMJ from second on a close play at the plate. Matthews barely slid in under the tag, but Martin coolly fired a BB to short to erase the advancing Kotchman.

Napoli more than made up for his baserunning error by blasting a solo shot, again into the bullpens, against Scott Proctor in the sixth. Yhency Brazoban got a similarly unfriendly reception in the seventh, giving up a leadoff double to GMJ and failed to retire three consecutive batters, giving up another pair of runs, hard-hit lasers to the right field corner for both GMJ and Anderson. Brazoban managed to settle down, finlly, and struck out three of the last five batters he faced, and three of the last four outs. But it was an outing that didn't do much for his ERA, nor Proctor for his.

Torre flew the white flag in the eighth, starting a wave of substitutions, starting with Gary Bennett at catcher, and wouldn't you know but he threw one away on a blocked wild pitch strikeout — again! — just as he had Friday night. Fortunately for the Dodgers, it didn't amount to anything as it happened with two outs, but it was the kind of additional humiliation they did not need to add to an already heavily padded resume.

Chris Bootcheck tossed two scoreless innings, which was impressive for him as these things go, because he's only managed one scoreless game all year. He came close to giving up an infield hit to Ethier but for a very nice bit of fielding by second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who charged the ball and threw behind him to get the speedy Ethier out. Andruw Jones even compliantly struck out to end the game, which elicited no boos from the crowd because all the Dodger fans who would have cared had left by then. At least Torre had the sense to push him down to the eight hole.

A couple miscellaneous items:

ESPN BoxAngels RecapDodgers recap

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"Fire in the hole" was hilarious. Remember: Panda Express is neither Chinese, nor yummy.

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