ANAHEIM, Calif. – Wait around long enough and the baseball season will turn, and turn again, so Albert Pujols' home run issues become Alex Rodriguez's, and the Los Angeles Angels' flaws become the New York Yankees', and the Texas Rangers will let in 16 runs in three innings at about the time the Chicago Cubs are winning their third consecutive ballgame.
From the celebration of winter and the depths of April, May arrived for the Angels, and so did the season. In the middle of Wednesday afternoon at Angel Stadium a forklift driver trundled through the lower concourse singing of an eight-game winning streak. It went like this: "We're on an eight-game winning streak! We're on an eight-game winning streak!"
A simple man with a simple, melodic message.
Then the Angels lost by a run to the Yankees, going out with two runners on base in the ninth. So long, eight-game winning streak. But that's not the point.
After giving away most of a month of baseball, the Angels have rediscovered their inner competence. Where it had gone, inexactly, was identified and then beaten to a slow, terrible death for weeks. It was Pujols. It was Aybar. It was the bullpen. It was Scioscia. It was Hatcher. It was every man in red not named Weaver, and then he went to the disabled list. But it apparently will not qualify as the Angels' obit because here they are, having won 19 times in their past 30 games and having drawn to within 5½ games of the Rangers, with those Rangers due in town Friday.
Here's the thing: spend the kind of money Arte Moreno did this offseason, jack up the expectations, hang some billboards, play the winter game of the Yankees – the big payroll and its symptoms – that takes some getting used to. A few guys can't reach base and a grown man loses his job. The deficit grows and the pressure with it, and the bad at-bats and gopher balls multiply.
As Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday of his own club's frailties, "There's a human being inside of that body that walks up there every day. Sometimes, you're a tick off. A tick off in this game is huge."
It's one thing to want to be the Yankees (in concept), and another to live their lives against the forces of impatience and scrutiny. Everybody wants to win, and win all the time. But only the underdogs get to do it without the angst and head-pounding pressure of it all. The Angels gave that away – and presumably brought AL West prosperity back into play – with the Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson signings.
They'd been run off in their division for two years. Now Pujols was here to save them. Turned out not to be so easy, and maybe that became the burden, revealing itself in a 7-15 record, in a nine-game deficit in the West and in a public that wasn't so forgiving. Attendance generally mirrored the team batting average, which wasn't very good. There's bills to pay and there's empty seats, and boos were rising from the seats that were occupied.
For a few weeks, the Angels played down to it.
Hey, this is why half the Yankees talk like the robot from "Lost in Space," why you can't really know many of them. It's a cocoon, man. Kill or be killed.
Alex Rodriguez played in two organizations – the Seattle Mariners and Rangers – which, when he was there, really wanted to win. He has played in one – the Yankees – that has to win.
"Different ballgame," he said. "It's the rules of engagement when you play this type of game. The Yankees are synonymous with that. It also, for me, makes it the greatest place to play in the world. For others, it's new to them.
"I mean, everyone pays attention every day. That's the biggest difference. Everybody's watching. The other thing is, you go into somebody else's building, everybody has their dancing shoes on. You're not going to sneak in and catch a team sleeping."
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The Angels' faults were of their own making, in the pitches they threw and the swings they took. Maybe it wasn't any bigger than that. Maybe it only looked bigger than that. But I doubt it.
It's tough. It's uncomfortable. It's a big, proud guy being portrayed as a clown in newspapers all over town and wearing it, because that has to come with the paychecks and the billboards. They'd deny succumbing to the expectations of April, but they do believe they are playing closer to what they really are. The at-bats look smarter. The losses look grittier. They were one last hit from sweeping the Yankees, which might not sound like much, but the Angels almost surely recall the alternative.
"No doubt," Mike Scioscia said, "we're a different team than we were even two weeks ago. A lot of things are going right for our club right now. We just have to keep it going."
That would be the hard part. Because the game, by nature, wants to turn.
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