Angels, Mets striving to succeed, but remain a pair of second fiddles

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports
mike trout
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Angels star Mike Trout homered in the first inning Friday night against the Mets. (AP Photo)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The New York Yankees have their weekend series against the Boston Red Sox, the start of 106 or so games this season against their rivals, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are in Arizona, where seven months ago they began to acquire their reputation for not giving a rat's rear end.

You know the payroll situations. You know how they carry themselves. You know the occasional – intended or otherwise – condescension. You know the reps.

This is where our eyes go. To the stars. To the green. To the commotion.

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The Dodgers are the game's new economic powerhouse, the Yankees soothed their own ills by feathering in another half-billion dollars in free agents, and we watch for the brilliance that comes from that or the catastrophe that follows. It is provocative either way.

Maybe they don't or won't win, but they will entertain, annoy, transfix, whatever. And then, yeah, they'll probably win anyway.

Which brings us to this weekend here, to Anaheim, where the New York Mets came to play the Los Angeles Angels, whose name is actually longer but there's no reason to get into that.

This is a corner of the game that exists in the neighborhood of the Yankees and Dodgers, but isn't them. This is – What would you call it? – slightly more modest. A half-century old, still finding themselves, and still creating histories their fans can live with, and still living up to whatever might be happening across town. Maybe you find that unfair. What have the Dodgers, for instance, done for the past 25 years? I mean, other than put more games between themselves and anything like sustained competitiveness.

And yet the market – expansive as it is – belongs to the Dodgers, as much as New York belongs to the Yankees, even among a generation that never saw a quarter of the stuff they put in those ballpark video montages.

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The Angels, even all the way down in The O.C. (hey, they wanted to be L.A.), and the Mets work back from that. Teams 1B. Both former champions, they've had their moments, great moments, and then, well, not so much. Not lately.

Here they are again, the Mets in Anaheim for the first time in six years and only the third time ever. They haven't seen a playoff game since the middle of last decade and haven't posted a winning record since 2008. Given those issues, the Mets signed Curtis Granderson, Chris Young and Bartolo Colon, currently have Kyle Farnsworth setting up Jose Valverde, and got a big laugh out of everyone when someone in their front office off-handedly (and privately) mentioned 90 wins.

(The Yankees missed the playoffs for the second time in 20 years and bought up high-end talent for their starting rotation and at catcher, center field and right field, all while preaching fiscal conservatism. Heh.)

The Mets have gone 4-6, which isn't at all unreasonable.

The Angels, of course, have set about things differently. They have stars at stars' wages, some of whom have produced. Unburdened by federal investigations or other people's bankruptcy filings, the Angels have shoveled cash at their inadequacies, at four consecutive dark Octobers, only to discover their problems lay elsewhere.

They have started 5-5, which, perhaps, is about where we had them.

Together on Friday night (a Los Angeles win in 11 innings), the Angels and Mets continued their journeys toward competitive relevance, toward the good fight, mostly out of the glare that chases their neighbors. They exist with behemoths in the same – let's call them – territories, borrow crossover fans, pull revenues from the same corporate accounts, feed the same appetites for entertainment, and yet life looks very different.

But is it?

"Well, I don't feel like it," said Raul Ibanez, who two years ago played a season in the Bronx and now is the Angels' regular designated hitter. "I don't feel like we're second in anything.

"Every place is unique, has it's own unique thing."

It's big-league ball in a big-league city. It's an existence inside a closed clubhouse, and beyond that inside a ballpark that draws more than reasonable crowds that demand something like competence. Granderson just put in four years as a Yankee, lived that life. Today he's the starting right fielder for New York team 1B.

"The only glaring difference is the average age of the players," he said. "It's a much younger group here. But, in terms of the energy, the determination, the day-to-day, a lot of the stuff is similar. You know, I never thought it was that chaotic on the other side."

Yes, he said, there was something to Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra and Goose Gossage hanging around. (And almost certainly something to Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in the lineup, but he didn't say so.) Something to the history. "Expansive," he called it, like it went back forever. But, really, how many wins is that worth?

"These guys," he said, waving his hand across a clubhouse busy in game preparation, "they play for this team."

And, well, of course they do. But he meant it smaller than that. They don't take the field with visions of winning the hearts, minds and wallets of New Yorkers, any more than Mike Trout builds his at-bats around conquering L.A. Those just happen. Or not.

By the way, the Dodgers won Friday night. The Yankees lost. Just in case you were wondering.

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