COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Angels deserve every drop of criticism they've received for what they've done since last October, starting with their questionable free-agent signings and continuing with their performance on the field, which has brought them to a 33-40 record.
But, where credit is due, it's due, and one thing this team will do is fight through a baseball game.
On June 20, the Angels fell behind 7-0 to the Seattle Mariners in the third inning at Angel Stadium. Angels starter Tommy Hanson, who continuously dodged bases occupied by runners in a 6-2 win against the New York Yankees on June 15, found no rabbits in his hat this time and the Mariners roughed him up good. The Mariners had Felix Hernandez, one of the American League's very best pitchers, working with a nice lead.
This game was over.
But the Angels fought through it. They tapped away with a run in the third and a run in the fourth, bringing themselves within 8-2. In the fifth, Peter Bourjos led off with a homer. Later in the inning, Albert Pujols singled in a run, and then Mark Trumbo hit a three-run homer. The Angels suddenly were within 8-7.
The Angels won the game with two runs in the eighth. The lead run scored with the bases loaded and two outs when Alberto Callaspo walked on four pitches from Seattle reliever Carter Capps. Closer Ernesto Frieri set down the Mariners in order in the ninth, striking out the last two hitters.
Down twice by seven runs, the Angels posted a 10-9 win.
The Angels' television commentators couldn't resist the typical observation that, perhaps, the game set a keynote for the rest of the season. Not so fast. It's only one game. Angels manager Mike Scioscia had it right in his postgame remarks to reporters. All it really means is that the players know they can come back the next time they are down two or three runs in a game. The game was an object lesson. It was not a cure.
But it did show that this team remains connected to the ethos of baseball, which is all about battling. The game is based on failure. A great hitter will still make 400 outs in a season. A great pitcher will be way off his best game about one-third of the time, and he has to deal with that. The great ones still get enough hitters out. Dealing with failure, in whichever way, is the mark of a baseball team.
There is another baseball team in Los Angeles -- which doesn't need to be named here -- but watching that team play has often left one with the impression that frustration has gotten into its head. That team often seems to fight harder when the benches are cleared than when they aren't. That team doesn't have a spring in its step.
But one thing the Angels have is a spring in their step. Even Pujols has a spring in his step, and he's playing with a plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Watching Pujols try to run this year -- some will roll their eyes over a remark that he has a spring in his step -- looks awful, and he runs into outs that he never used to run into. We might even wish he'd cut it back a little because of that, but he plays hard. And when the Mariners intentionally walked Mike Trout in the sixth to pitch to Pujols, he singled in a run and barked into the visiting dugout at Angel Stadium -- this guy means it.
Angels shortstop Erick Aybar makes mistakes, and we see them all, but he plays with a spring in his step. There is never any question that he shows up for the game.
Bourjos, who ignited both multi-run innings in this game, has a spring in his step. He cracked open the eighth inning, leading off with a single, stealing second and taking third on a throwing error.
Scioscia has become something of a lightning rod for criticism in 2013 for this and that decision, often with justification. But the guys are playing for him. They don't always play well, but they do play hard. Sometimes, we wonder about Josh Hamilton, but they mostly play hard.
That's why the Angels remain worth watching, despite everything. Despite their 33-40 record. Despite being nine games out. Despite Hamilton, who killed both of the Angels' crooked-run innings in this game.
We're not giving the Angels anything they don't have coming. We're not declaring them contenders, even though they have won six of their last eight. We're not pretending this team doesn't have structural problems.
But we're not calling them dogs, either.
Bill Peterson has covered and written about Major League Baseball for more than 30 years in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Texas and Los Angeles, where he now lives and writes a baseball blog, Big Leagues in Los Angeles. He is a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
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