ANAHEIM, Ca. – For all the predictable reasons, the Los Angeles Angels were done.
Mid-August had come and they were precisely the ballclub most expected them to be. That is, better than average, but not by much.
In a tribute to the ground they’d covered as an organization over the previous decade, the Angels therefore were being picked over for what they lacked. That is, a productive offense and a lockdown closer, and the vision (or creativity) to acquire help for either.
For the first time in their history, the Angels had a regular place at the adults' table, where there is expected a certain decorum, a certain attitude, a certain confidence.
These were the standards they asked of themselves going on a dozen years ago, when Mike Scioscia became their manager, and then three years later, when Arte Moreno purchased the franchise from Disney.
They began to win – the World Series in 2002, and five division titles from 2004-09. Six times in the last decade they won 92 games or more. And they won differently than most, especially in the American League, to which Scioscia refused to concede his preferred method of playing the game.
In so doing, the Angels became the darlings of a city that also couldn't quite break its Dodgers habit, not until lately. Scioscia and Moreno were their kinds of guys, and the baseball was their kind of ball. The Angels regularly outplayed the Moneyball team, and then Steinbrenner's team, and especially the other local team, so even the near misses – and there were plenty – were entertaining, too.
The latest version, however, was a different kind of team, a little too much like last year's, which lost 82 games and finished third in the AL West. Ownership wasn't taking criticism well, or certainly not as happily as it bathed in the fawning of the previous decade. The season was slipping away in a river of strikeouts and stranded baserunners. The smart and aggressive situational hitting that had been Scioscia's teams' signature was gone. The game-shortening bullpen frayed and the deep rotation grew thready.
Standing in that very place on the night of Aug. 18, however, Texas Rangers righty Mike Adams(notes) threw a pitch and Mark Trumbo(notes) turned on it, and a four-game sweep wasn't a sweep at all, and an eight-game deficit was only six, and a walk-off 2-1 win has led to a weekend in Texas that has some meat on it.
"What weekend?" Scioscia had asked coyly Wednesday evening, and then the Rangers were bombed by the Boston Red Sox and the Angels hammered the Chicago White Sox, and the Angels – from the verge of done – were by Thursday night unpacking their stuff in Dallas and one game back in the loss column.
Famously unwilling to look past, and much less talk about, anything beyond the game ahead, Scioscia spent Thursday's flight considering his pitching rotation and a not insignificant philosophical shift. A single week in August, when the Angels won six in a row while the Rangers lost six of eight, has pushed Scioscia today to manage parts of tomorrow, the day after, the month of September.
Rather than go into Arlington with a scheduled rotation of Dan Haren(notes), Joel Pineiro(notes) and Jerome Williams(notes), Scioscia's most radical plan would pitch Haren on regular rest against Derek Holland(notes), Ervin Santana(notes) on three days' rest Saturday against C.J. Wilson(notes), then ace Jered Weaver(notes) on three days' rest Sunday against Colby Lewis(notes). He wasn't sure, and chose to sleep on the decision another night.
It is a remarkable risk he considers with two of the better arms in the league. Neither has pitched on short rest as a professional. Ever. Weaver ranks third in the major leagues in pitches thrown; Santana is 14th.
Santana threw 115 pitches over eight hard innings Tuesday. The next night, Weaver threw 96 over seven innings, the second time in three months he'd thrown fewer than 110, and was removed early with an eye on Sunday.
"I feel good, I feel strong," Weaver said after his start. "So let's do it."
Remarkable, and necessary.
And it is a remarkable admission by Scioscia that a game – or three games – in August amount to something more than a game or three. What makes Scioscia the manager is his adherence to the moment, to 162 tiny slices of momentum, nothing more and absolutely nothing less.
But he looks up and Texas is leading the division, but coming back to the Angels. And the Angels have scrounged up a little offense. And Rangers president Nolan Ryan is telling reporters his pitchers, "Are just not as sharp. They look fatigued." And maybe Scioscia sees his last and best opening against the Rangers, who generally out-play, out-hit and out-maneuver the Angels anymore.
Out of character, Scioscia may take his shot against the Rangers, then take his chances with how the rotation falls in series against the Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins and Mariners again leading to the club's next off day, two weeks away.
He might as well. Heck, he's already been done once.
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