Between the profound heartache of early April and the deep disappointment of late October, Mike Scioscia's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim put together one of the franchise's proudest and most memorable seasons.
Rookie right-hander Nick Adenhart(notes) was killed hours after making his first major league start. The season wasn't a week old. Adenhart wouldn't see age 23. His loss could have knocked the rest of the Angels out of the game emotionally.
And while grieving Adenhart, they had lesser hurdles to overcome. With John Lackey(notes), Ervin Santana(notes) and Kelvim Escobar(notes) all injured at the start of the season, their run of division titles seemed in jeopardy immediately. The Angels started brutally in the AL West, falling five games under .500 in April and were 5 1/2 games behind the upstart Texas Rangers on May 30.
The Angels used 13 different starting pitchers over the course of the season. Top setup man Scot Shields(notes) pitched in only 20 games, while hitters Vladimir Guerrero(notes), Torii Hunter(notes), Erick Aybar(notes) and Howie Kendrick(notes) also found themselves out with injuries.
"Man, we had to overcome a lot of obstacles this season," Hunter said. "Death of a teammate. A lot of injuries to key players We battled. We had a lot of young guys pitching, coming up from Triple-A, things like that."
Yet the Angels persisted.
They won 97 games, thanks in part to the blossoming of right-hander Jered Weaver(notes), the unexpected emergence of 30-year-old rookie Matt Palmer(notes), the steady presence of Bobby Abreu(notes), a career year from Chone Figgins(notes) and a breakout season from slugger Kendry Morales(notes). Lackey got healthy, Hunter did his thing. Journeyman left-hander Darren Oliver(notes) became a bridge to closer Brian Fuentes(notes).
And they had guiding hand of Scioscia. The Angels' mere presence in the playoffs for the sixth time since 2002 is testament to the job he did. Though talented, the Angels played greater than the sum of their parts. They had to.
"We had a great season, nothing to hang our heads for," Hunter said. "We did what we had to do all season."
Until the ALCS, when their defense deserted them. Baserunning, too. They needed to be much closer to perfect in order beat the Yankees.
"At times we shot ourselves in the foot," Scioscia said. "The Yankees are a team that you can't give extra outs to. We did it in a couple of games. And obviously it cost us."
Give the Angels time away and they'll look back on '09 with deserved pride. They weren't good enough to win the World Series, but they were a credit to Adenhart's memory.
And to themselves.
"I think as we reflect on this, after a couple of days, just look at all the great things that happened on the field for us, the trials and tribulations that the guys in that clubhouse went through all year is something that you hope you never have to go through in your lifetime again," Scioscia said.
"It was a special group in there to keep going. Special group in there to keep bringing Nick's memory forward every day. Every day we came to the park and he's still with us. And I'm sure we'll have a little peace in that as we move forward. Right now this loss, obviously, hurts."