ANAHEIM – Indians manager Eric Wedge gazed through a knot of Cleveland players, stretching in the cooling air of early Thursday evening, to the Los Angeles Angels in their red pullovers, the players spread from foul line to foul line in the month of expanded rosters.
Two hours to game time, Wedge already had dismissed ideas of a long early look at a potential playoff antagonist, just as the Angels’ Mike Scioscia had before him, two rigid day-at-a-time managers determined to play today's game today, and October's games when they come.
They happened to find each other for four early-September games, two of the three teams in baseball to reach more than 80 wins (the Boston Red Sox are the other) with three-and-a-half weeks left and the rest of their overrun divisions at least seven games behind.
They play now to steer clear of the Red Sox in the division series, and to maybe catch the New York Yankees and their uncertain starting rotation, but mainly because the schedule says there are games left, so they play them to win them, if just to stay in practice.
And it is not impossible that on an October night not so different than this, the basic colors the same, the Angels and Indians will play for the privilege to play some more.
From Wedge's seat on the bench, the image was too distant to make out.
He did, however, offer the general theme of such a series.
"I think we're very different teams," he said. "We're very different teams."
Lined up across from the Angels, of course, nearly every offense looks philosophically tilted.
As different as, say, Garret Anderson and Travis Hafner are hitters, whose progress, as August turned to September, became critical developments for the Angels and Indians. See, the big bat didn't come to Anaheim. It never does, or not since Vladimir Guerrero joined up in 2004.
They didn’t have to trade on their future – guys named Wood and Kendrick, Adenhart and Weaver, and made do with Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr., Orlando Cabrera and whoever else showed up, which was good enough in the AL West, but maybe not much beyond that. They followed Scioscia's directives and put up runs without home runs or walks, because they hardly ever struck out or stayed put on the basepaths, and because the ball was almost always in play.
Then Anderson, the career-long Angel who'd been given up for aged and injury-prone, found a healthy patch and began to wield the bat the Angels passed on in the winter and at the trading deadline. Since Aug. 21, Anderson has nine home runs and 31 RBI, including another home run and three more RBI against the Indians on Thursday. The Angels kept hitting, the Seattle Mariners kept losing, and a one-game lead in the West, by Thursday night, was eight games.
In barely more than two weeks, Anderson has 25 hits in 60 at-bats. Against the Indians and Paul Byrd with two out in the fifth inning, he flicked an undermanned fastball into center field for an RBI in his 11th consecutive game, a club record. He scored after two more two-out hits in a four-run inning, the Angels running good at-bats together, finishing with 15 hits on a night Guerrero was scratched because of sore triceps.
"I knew I could still play," Anderson said. "I didn't have any doubts whatsoever. Even when the injuries came, I didn't think about if I could still do it."
In the top of the same inning, Hafner, long missing from the Indians' offense, had ripped a two-out double against Kelvim Escobar. He later scored their second run of the inning, though that 3-1 lead would be gone in minutes, eventually demolished in a 10-3 defeat.
But, the Indians appear to have their Pronk back, their slugger to Anderson's gap routine. They'd survived a mid-season offensive rut, leaned daily on Victor Martinez, then occasionally on Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta and, when he could, Hafner. He hit 42 home runs and 117 RBI last season and has followed that with 21 homers and 85 RBI. His .260 batting average was off 48 points from 2006, the stats-wide decline a mystery to the Indians, who in early July re-upped him at another $57 million.
He reappeared in a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins earlier this week. He had two home runs among five hits in 12 at-bats, along with six RBI, and his batting average reached.260 for the first time since late July. His average with runners in scoring position remains a dismal .206, but that's of little concern to Wedge anymore.
"None of that matters now," he said. "The only thing that matters is what you do today and this point forward.
"I think he's getting himself going. He's doing it at the right time."
He could mean something now, just as Anderson has meant something again in the middle of the Angels' order, potentially turning the Angels into something more.
They could keep this up for a while.
"Yeah, yeah," Anderson said. "All the different parts of our game are pretty solid. And those things can be gone in a day. You have to take advantage of it while you're there."
Sitting across the field from Wedge on the same evening, Scioscia looked out at the Indians players who gathered at the opposite rail. This, he said, would not be about October. He wouldn't have it.
"We're looking at this team as a team we're playing tonight," he said. "That's it. … It's a baseball game."
- Eric Wedge
- Mike Scioscia