Sunday, April 12, 2009

By Chuck Richter - Senior Editor

It was an exhausting, emotion-filled opening week for the Angels and their fans, from the high of an Opening Day shutout victory to the tragic low of Nick Adenhart’s shocking death. The emotions once expected from a weekend series against the Red Sox shifted dramatically, with Boston players and coaches respectfully participating in a tender on-field tribute to their fallen brother on Friday night.

But by Sunday, the rivalry seemed back in full swing, with mound nemesis Josh Beckett welcoming new Angel Bobby Abreu to the fray with a 95 mph calling card.

Though the 2009 season has certainly taken on an unexpected new tone, one that will likely see the Angels play with heavier hearts in honor of a young man who was taken far too soon, Sunday’s game reminded the players and fans that life, and baseball, does indeed go on. With 156 games remaining, the Angels must get back to business.

What exactly is this “unfinished business” of which we speak?

Well, there’s the promise of a 2008 campaign that saw the team make the long-clamored-for July 31 deadline trade, eclipse the century mark in victories for the first time in franchise history and head into the postseason with the best record in baseball — only to see it all go tumbling down faster than Torii Hunter, Howie Kendrick or Erick Aybar could (or should I say couldn’t?) call out “I got it!”

Yeah, the Angels missed a lot more than a pop fly and a bunt attempt last year, but that’s not really the whole story, is it?

How about owner Arte Moreno, who purchased the team a few months after the Angels won their first World Series Championship and has spent the ensuing 5 ½ seasons doing everything within his power to bring them another? He’s opened up his checkbook, he’s stepped in to help facilitate free agent negotiations, he’s improved the fan experience at Angel Stadium, gotten every game on television … even purchased his own radio station specifically to control all game broadcasts.

And how have his employees rewarded him come October? 2004, swept; 2005, beat New York, crumbled to Chicago; 2007, swept. And we’ve already covered 2008. Moreno is one savvy businessman and you know it has to irk him that his company’s annual report always seems to take a nosedive in the fourth quarter.

Gene Autry, God rest his soul, couldn’t hang around long enough to see the Angels reward his stewardship of the club. I suspect Moreno has a lot more years than patience at this point.

But that’s still not hitting this issue on the screws, to use baseball vernacular. This “unfinished business” goes back a lot further than 2003. We’re talking decades here, aren’t we? So far back, in fact, that a kid born on the very day this all started is actually now pitching in the Angels minor league system. (Look it up.)

It can all be summed up by listing four names: Dave Henderson, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew — the four horsemen of the Angels apocalypse if you will. Each of these players wielded a 30-some ounce piece of ash or maple like a scalpel, removing every shred of Angels fans’ hope with such precision not even a speech by Barack Obama could revive it. (When he wasn’t throwing out the first pitch before fateful October 2005 games in Chicago, of course. Look that up, too.)

Four players, four soul-crushing home runs … one team: the Boston Red Sox.

Henderson, of course, got this miserable party started on Oct. 12, 1986, pirouetting up the first base line as his series-altering home run off Donnie Moore denied the Angels — and their fans — their first trip to the World Series; an invitation they’d have to wait another 16 years to receive.

Most of the misery seemed to have been erased by 2004, thanks obviously to the events of October 2002; but then Jarrod Washburn was summoned to face “Big Papi” Ortiz. Out went the ball and in flooded back all the dread Angels fans thought they’d buried two years earlier.

The Red Sox, always eager to give, didn’t wait another 16 years to inflict more pain, however. Just three seasons later they were back to their old tricks, this time Ramirez taking Francisco Rodriguez over the boards in walk-off fashion. The defeat brought the postseason tally dating back to Oct. 12, 1986, to Red Sox 9, Angels 0.

And then last year, it was Drew’s turn to serve up some misery, his ALDS Game 2 home run in the ninth inning sending the Angels to their 11th consecutive playoff defeat at the hands of Boston.

Though they finally broke the streak by winning Game 3 at Fenway, the Angels would ultimately do themselves in this time in Game 4. Had Aybar finished the job and successfully bunted Manny Delcarmen’s pitch, this might be a much different column today. But he didn’t finish; his shortstop counterpart Jed Lowrie did — and that is why the Angels business today is most definitely unfinished.

With a whole season yet to play, there’s no knowing at this point if the Angels will get another chance to punch the clock against their nemesis from New England, but Angels fans collectively know that until their team sends the Red Sox home for the winter, business hours are a long way from over.
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