Doing it their way

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Dino Ebel, whose name rhymes with "See No Evil," waves his arms and hurries down the third-base line, imparting audacity and urgency to the men who hurtle by.

Ebel, the Los Angeles Angels' third-base coach, has a policy about advancing 180 feet when 90 might otherwise do, one that is encouraged by his bosses, that is stocked by an organizational philosophy, and that also looks and sounds a lot like "See No Evil."

"It fits this club," he said. "We put it in play and make things happen."

He nodded toward the outfield at Angel Stadium, toward imaginary outfielders charging imaginary singles, just beyond baserunners demanding clear decisions, clean catches and precise throws.

"They have to make the play," he said.

The Angels became the third team to qualify for baseball's postseason and the second (behind the Cleveland Indians) to go as a division winner Sunday afternoon, winning their 92nd game and falling all over each other on an infield made of grass and dirt, and on basepaths made of uncommon resolve.

They are division winners for the third time in four years, playoff bound for the fourth time in six years. In that time, they have pitched most nights, defended most seasons and signed Vladimir Guerrero, creating an offense unlike most in the game, and certainly unlike any that routinely takes batting practice into October.

Ebel is 170 pounds of pull, towing eager baserunners from first base to his feet, and 170 pounds of impetus, propelling them another 30 yards toward one more hard-earned and dusty run.

By the end of the week and so the regular season, no playoff team will have labored like the Angels for its runs, taken more risks, lived with more preventable outs or leaned on its third-base coach quite so much.

In an AL postseason that might otherwise turn on Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens, or Victor Martinez and C.C. Sabathia, or David Ortiz and Josh Beckett, on long balls and power pitchers, the Angels arrive with a different kind of game.

"They have guys that work bases on balls, that duck pitches," Seattle Mariners manager John McLaren said. "They can hit and run. And there's no team close in the major leagues that goes first to third like them. They're a National League club. Seems like one of those guys go down, they have one just as fast, just as aggressive, who takes his place. They're always putting pressure on you at all times. The only defense is to get a lead – a pretty sizable lead – and shut them down a little bit."

Every season since 2002, their World Series year, the Angels have finished 20th or worse in home runs. This season, they are 28th, better than only the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. Every offseason they troll for power hitters, for someone to make the runs come easier, and every April they line up around Guerrero, knock the dirt from their spikes and sprint for third.

"Maybe if we had a handful of guys who hit 30-plus home runs, it'd be a little different," Gary Matthews Jr. said. "But we aren't built that way."

Seven seasons have passed since the Angels had more than one player with 30 home runs, five since any of those guys weren't named Guerrero.

After leading baseball in stolen bases for the past three seasons, they are fourth in this one. Since 2003, they have gone first to third on singles 531 times, nearly 50 more often than the next closest team – the St. Louis Cardinals – and 63 more times than the next closest AL team, the Yankees. This season, they have done it 120 times, according to STATS, while no other team has done it 100.

Their legs – along with Guerrero and a robust second half by Garret Anderson – have carried them to fourth in the AL in runs, behind the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, ahead of the Indians.

"We played our style of baseball," Matthews said.

If the Angels match up with the Yankees in the division series, it will be against the team that allowed more stolen bases – 131 – than any in the AL. Yet the Angels have been caught five times in eight attempts against the Yankees. The Red Sox have allowed the fifth-most stolen bases. The three October catchers they could face on the AL side of the playoffs – Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez – are not known for their arms, nor their attentive pitching staffs. The left fielders in New York (Johnny Damon) and Cleveland (Kenny Lofton) have among the weakest throwing arms in the league.

Theirs is not the league's best offense, or its prettiest, or its loudest, or always its smartest. Sometimes it can be reckless.

Theirs is not the league's best offense, but it is possible it forces the most outfield bobbles and the most throws into the third-base photo well. Sometimes it can be dynamic.

All the Angels will ask is that opposing outfielders field it cleanly, get their legs under them, throw to the right base or cutoff man, and hit the glove.

Then do it again. And again.

It happens.

"But," Ebel said, "it's not too often."

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