By David Saltzer - AngelsWin.com Columnist
It was with much sadness that I got out the ladder and took down my Angels flag this week. With that act another Angels baseball season ended. No longer would I hear the sweet sound of a bat hitting a ball or the chatter of a game. The darkest part of the year had begun.
But, unlike Matthew Pouliot who blogged after Sunday’s game that the Angels should be embarrassed about their loss to the Yankees, I’m not. I watched this team from the first game of Spring Training until the last out against the Yankees and I’m proud of everything that this team accomplished in 2009.
If ever there was a season where the Angels had every reason not to contend, 2009 was it. Before the season got underway, the team suffered some serious blows. Both Ervin Santana and John Lackey started the season on the disabled list. Kelvim Escobar, whom many had hoped would recover from shoulder surgery, took a turn for the worse and never threw a pitch for us. Scioscia juggled a rotation around Shane Loux and Matt Palmer—both journeymen minor leaguers, and hoped that it would be enough. The highest priced free agent from the offseason had been replaced by a rookie at first base.
And then tragedy struck.
I’ll never forget the morning when I woke up to radio announcing that Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver. I couldn’t believe it. I had just watched him pitch a great game—the kind of game that showed the promise I saw in him as a minor leaguer—and couldn’t believe that he was dead. I stayed glued to Angelswin.com to read more about it and commiserate with my online community. I read every article about the accident to learn how such a tragedy could happen.
I went to the first game after Nick’s death. I saw the poise, dignity, and courage in Weaver as he took on Boston—and won. I saw the Angels take 2 out of 3 that weekend against one of our fiercest foes and saw how the Angels family drew close to deal with such a loss.
I was there as we stumbled to a 29-29 record on June 11th. Vlad was on the disabled list. The bullpen couldn’t hold a lead. Kendrick couldn’t figure things out at the plate. Aybar looked lost in the field. Nothing seemed to be working.
But then, something happened. The team started to click. After Scioscia held a closed-door meeting, the team started to win.
Soon, one win became two wins. Two wins became three. And before I knew it, we were in the midst of a 7-game win streak. By the All-Star Break we had improved our record to 49-37. By the end of the season, we finished with a 97-65 record, our 3rd best record overall. From June 11th on, we posted a 654 win percentage—winning percentage higher than the Yankees posted for the entire year.
Over that span, I saw players mature from “possibles” to definite. Aybar became a rock in our infield and made spectacular plays. Morales became a monster at the plate at a fraction of Teixeira’s cost. Kendrick, who had been demoted for struggling so much came back after 3 weeks and hit the cover off the ball. Bulger and Jepsen who were both so fallible at the start of the season became anchors in the pen.
As the season wore on, I was treated to many highlights. My favorite came on August 18th when the Angels fielded its first “Spartan lineup”—a lineup where all 9 players had a batting 300+ batting average. I saw incredible defense, with possible gold gloves earned at 3rd base and center field. I kept score while this team became the first team in major league history to have 11 players drive in 50 or more runs.
At the same time, I saw this team accomplish all of this while still continuing to deal with injuries. This past summer was no picnic. At various points the Angels lost Hunter, Guerrero, and Saunders to the disabled list and still won. They rushed rookies such as Trevor Bell and Sean O’Sullivan up to cover the gaps and still won. The Angels juggled lineups and still won.
As for the post-season, well, I’m proud of what the Angels accomplished. While we didn’t get to the World Series, we got something that I’ve wanted for 23 years—revenge against Boston. Having been at every home playoff game against them, I ached to see an Angels team get past them to atone for 1986. And this year, I finally got my wish. I got to see Boston walk off the field with their heads hung low. I was treated to one of the best games ever played by the Angels in the post season and rejoiced as we swept them.
Matthew Pouliot, you are wrong. The Angels have nothing to be embarrassed about. Sure, they could have played better against the Yankees. And yes, the Angels might have gotten to the World Series this year. They didn’t. But, realistically, they should have lost to the Yankees.
As Torii Hunter wrote in his blog “If I had to point to one thing as the difference (as to why the Angels lost to the Yankees), I'd say maturity. They have a lot of seasoned, smart players.” Well, that maturity comes at a cost—about $4 million per player extra on their starting 25-man roster.
Neither the Angels nor Mike Scioscia have anything to be embarrassed about this post season. If anyone has anything to be embarrassed about, it’s the Yankees. With an almost $100 million payroll advantage and the home field advantage, the fact that we took 2 games from them and were still in Game 6 until the bottom of the 8th inning is embarrassing. The fact that they were so certain that we could still come back to win it that they brought in Rivera to shut us down for the last 2 innings is embarrassing. The fact that we lost the series is not embarrassing.
Here’s the thing Angels fans. If Torii Hunter is right about the maturity factor, consider the following: In 2007, the Angels went 0-3 in the post season. In 2008, the Angels went 1-3 in the post season. In 2009, the Angels went 5-4 in the post season and advanced to ALCS for the first time since 2005. We are maturing as a club and it’s showing in our post season record.
At the same time, remember how much of our talent is home grown. As Abe Flores told us, 53 of the 66 players who were in the Spring Training camp were home grown. As we saw this season with Bell, O’Sullivan, and Wood, the future is there and ready to step up. While there is no doubt that some changes will be made to the club this offseason, the foundation for a stronger, deeper, and better run next year has been laid.
Relax and enjoy the offseason Angels fans. Spring Training 2010 is just 4 months away. But, as you think back on your 2009 Angels, be proud Angels fans.