Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Vlad Guerrero won the 2004 MVP award while with the Angels

Well, there's a lot to cover so without further ado, here's our AngelsWin.com top five all-time best Angels player performances in the history of Angels Baseball according to us.

1. Nolan Ryan (1973)

Nolan Ryan's dominance over opposing hitters and strikeout record set in 1973 will be talked about for ages to come. His single season 383 strikeouts record will most likely never be broken and for this, Nolan Ryan's 1973 season performance has to be #1. Let's take a closer look at the Ryan Express best single season performance in Angels History, written by our own Geoff Bilau. 

Heading into his final start of the 1973 season, Nolan Ryan had already accomplished more than most pitchers these days can claim in two or three seasons.

38 starts. 25 complete games. Four shutouts. 20 victories. 22 games with 10 or more strikeouts. Heck, he even recorded a save, pitching the final two innings a day after the shortest start of his career (0.1 inning) to secure an Angels 6-5 victory on May 12.

And, oh yeah, he also tossed two no-hitters, on May 15 and July 15.

With all of that already under his belt, it seems almost absurd that Ryan saved his best for last. You see, while he was ringing up all of those strikeouts, they were adding up to something potentially very special.

During his first five September starts (all complete game victories), Ryan struck out 53 batters, giving him 367 strikeouts for the year - 15 shy of Sandy Koufax's Major League record 382 in 1965.

Nursing a torn calf muscle, Ryan took the Anaheim Stadium mound in front of just 9,100 fans looking to make history one more time in 1973. When the Twins immediately jumped out to a 3-0 first inning lead, it didn't seem likely he'd stick around long enough to collect the requisite strikeouts - though he did fan the side in the inning.

The Angels answered with three in the bottom of the first and Ryan had new life. Through five innings, he had 11 strikeouts and the Angels led, 4-3. In the sixth, the Twins pushed across the tying run, which would prove fortuitous for Ryan later in the night.

In the seventh, he again struck out the side, giving him 14 strikeouts, one shy of tying Koufax. But he'd also walked six batters, allowed seven hits and was piling up a lot of pitches on an aching leg. In the eighth, Ryan struck out Steve Brye to end the inning, tying Koufax with No. 382.

After nine innings, the game remained tied, 4-4, with Ryan stalled at 15 punchouts. And when he pitched a scoreless 10th, sandwiching a fly ball between two groundouts, fans wondered if he had enough left for one more inning.

With reliever Steve Barber warming in the bullpen, the Angels went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning. Announcer Dick Enberg made the call.

"The crowd is standing in anticipation, watching the bullpen gate," Enberg said, pausing in his own anticipation. "And here he comes!"

Ryan jumped ahead of Brye, 1-2, but the center fielder grounded out to short. Ryan's body language couldn't disguise his fatigue or his frustration.

"Ryan now is like the heavyweight fighter with a knockout punch that has gone so many rounds that he has his opponent staggering and staggering but doesn't have enough left to deliver that one blow that will knock him to the canvas and put him away," Enberg said. "He's getting the two strikes on hitters, but can't get the third."

Next up was Rod Carew, who struck out only 55 times in 1973, though three of them came earlier in this game. Carew drew a walk, Ryan's seventh of the game, bringing manager Bobby Winkles to the mound. The crowd bristled, but Enberg was unfazed.

"He is going to let Nolan Ryan pitch as long as he wants," Enberg said.

During Tony Oliva's at-bat, Carew broke for second, drawing a throw - and a gasp from the crowd, which did not him to be thrown out, thus robbing Ryan of an opportunity for the 16th strikeout. Carew was safe. Oliva, however, flew out to center field, bringing up light hitting Rich Reese, who'd pinch run for Harmon Killebrew in the ninth.

"You can feel through the crowd a vibration saying, 'Maybe this is the guy,' " Enberg said.

Reese swung and missed at Ryan's first two pitches, another two-strike opportunity for the right-hander. On Ryan's 0-2 pitch…

"Swung on and missed! Nolan Ryan is the Major League strikeout king of all time! He walks off the mound, his teammates come over to greet him one by one, the fans stand cheering.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have seen one of the finest young men to ever wear a baseball uniform record one of the most incredible records in Major League history. Three hundred and eighty-three for Nolan Ryan!

"Fans are shaking hands with each other as if they're all part of this great night, as if to say, 'Yes, we saw it. We saw it all.' "

With their ace now the strikeout king, the Angels rewarded Ryan with the victory when pinch hitter Richie Scheinblum doubled home Tommy McCraw with the game-winner in the bottom of the 11th.

Ryan finished 1973 with a 21-16 record, 2.87 ERA and finished second in Cy Young Award voting to Jim Palmer. But it was the last pitch he threw that season that remains his most memorable. 

2. Mike Trout (2012)

Mike Trout had an amazing season, one that Angels fans will never forget. What's scary is, he will most likely get better as the years go on. Think about it, Trout turned 21 over the summer which means he's 6-7 years away from reaching his prime years.  Be that as it may, despite all the accolades and amazing highlight reels over Trout's rookie of the year campaign, if Nolan Ryan accomplished his feat in '73 in 2012, he would not only be the CY Young, but undoubtedly the AL MVP over Trout & Miguel Cabrera. Two no-hitters in one season and 383 strikeouts, a record most likely to never be broken, is nothing short just amazing!

Coming in at #2 in the all-time best player performances over a single season, Mike Trout's rookie of the year campaign.

Trout finished with a perfect score of 140 points in the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year balloting process, including all 28 first place first place votes. He finished 77 points ahead of second place finisher Yoenis Cespedes of Oakland (63 points). Trout becomes the 18th unanimous winner in the history of the prestigious award, just the eighth in the A.L. The 21-year-old is the second player in Angels’ history to earn the honor, joining Tim Salmon in 1993. In the 1993 campaign, Salmon hit .283 (146/515) and led all A.L. rookies in doubles (35), home runs (31) and RBI (95).

Following his call up on April 28, Trout wrapped up the season with a .337 (182/559) average, 129 runs scored, 27 doubles, eight triples, 30 home runs, 83 RBI and 49 stolen bases (54 attempts) in 139 games. He ranked in the American League Top 5 in several offensive categories including, average (2nd), runs scored (1st), stolen bases (1st), slugging percentage (.564, 3rd) and on-base percentage (.399, 3rd).

Originally selected by the Angels in the first round (25th overall) of the 2009 draft, Trout led all rookies in nearly every offensive category in 2012, including average, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, stolen bases and walks. Additionally, he joins Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Alex Rodriguez as the only players to hit .320 or above with 30+ home runs during their 20-year-old seasons.

A native of Millville, N.J., he becomes the fourth A.L. player since 1994 born in the Garden State to win the award, joining Andrew Bailey (2009), Derek Jeter (1996) and Bob Hamelin (1994). Trout was selected to his first All-Star team after posting a league leading .341 (88/258) batting average in the first half. He became the first rookie to hold the league’s batting lead at the break since 1960.

In becoming the youngest A.L. Rookie of the Year, Trout surpasses Detroit’s Lou Whitaker, who won the honors in 1978 at 21 years, 143 days old. The youngest Rookie of the Year on the National League side is Dwight Gooden who won the award in 1984 with the New York Mets at 19 years, 320 days old.

Winning American League Rookie of the Month honors in May, June, July and August, Trout became the first player to claim the award in four consecutive months. He broke or tied multiple Angels rookie records and was the first rookie in Major League history to record 30 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single season.

The Rookie of the Year Award has been presented annually since 1947 and subsequently had its name changed to the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award in 1987, 40 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.


American League Rookie of the Year
Louisville Silver Slugger Award Winner
A.L. Outstanding Rookie – Players Choice Awards
Wilson A.L. Defensive Player of the Year
Baseball America Player of the Year
Baseball America Rookie of the Year
Sporting News A.L. Rookie of the Year
Angels Team MVP
American League All-Star
American League Player of the Month – July
American League Rookie of the Month – May, June, July & August
Co-American League Player of the Week – Period ending June 10
MLBPAA Recipient of Heart & Hustle Award 

Mike Trout is a finalist in the 2012 AL MVP award which will be announced this Thursday, November 15th, 2012. 

3. Vladimir Guerrero (2004)

Vladimir's first season with the Angels was an MVP one, capturing the award after an amazing season which saw Vlad go into full beast mode over the final month of the 2004 campaign, giving the Angels their first division title since 1986.

Coming in at #3, Vlad the Impaler!

It's rare that a sports event that occurs away from the field of play would make any sort of top "anything" list. The vast majority of the moments highlighted on our list took place on the baseball diamond, because those are the moments that are most celebrated and seldom forgotten by fans.

However, on Jan. 11, 2004, when ESPN Radio affiliate KSPN's update man Dave Denholm announced that the Anaheim Angels had reached an agreement on a five-year contract with free-agent slugger Vladimir Guerrero, it incited a reaction from fans on par with a postseason series victory.

It had been expected that the Montreal Expos' four-time All-Star right fielder would sign with the Mets, Dodgers or Orioles. There hadn't been a whisper that the Angels were even interested in the National League's best kept secret.

As the story goes, then Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman made a call to Guerrero's agent, Arn Tellem, to inquire about Rafael Palmeiro.

"How about Vlad?," the agent responded.

Stoneman, surprised that Guerrero was interested in the Angels, approached Angels owner Arte Moreno with the idea. Three days later, Moreno had a new face for the franchise he'd acquired just eight months earlier..

Though he'd already gained credibility among fans by making other waves during the off-season with the signings of Jose Guillen, Kelvim Escobar and Bartolo Colon, Moreno removed any doubt that he truly meant business with the Guerrero signing.

And what a signing it was. Guerrero won the American League MVP award in 2004, carrying the Angels on his back down the stretch to their first division title in eighteen years. In his four years with the Angels, the quiet superstar has averaged a remarkable .327 batting average, 33 homeruns and 119 RBI per season while the Angels have won three division titles.

4. Don Baylor (1979)

Don Baylor's '79 MVP season propelled the California Angels to their first trip to the postseason in the history of their franchise.

Coming in at #4, Don Baylor ladies and gentlemen.

At some point during the 1979 Angels season, a new statistic was born. Though the abbreviation RBI has traditionally stood for "runs batted in," Angels cleanup hitter Don Baylor redefined it to mean "runs Baylored in."

The outfielder/DH, acquired as a free agent prior to the 1977 season, was so adept at producing in the clutch during the Angels first division championship season that radio play-by-play man Dick Enberg coined the new phrase. And he used it a lot.

Baylor batted .296 with 36 home runs and a still franchise best 139 RBI, netting him 20 of a possible 28 first place votes for the American League MVP award. For good measure, Baylor also scored 120 runs, which like his RBI total also led the league.

Baylor got off to blazing start, driving in a then league record 28 runs in April, and never cooled off. On April 21, he belted a grand slam during the Angels 13-1 victory over the Athletics. On May 15, Baylor beat the Brewers with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie.

On August 8, Baylor was already sitting at 98 RBI and hit the century mark in style, connecting in the third inning off the Athletics' Matt Keough for a two-run shot for Nos. 99 and 100. Baylor went 4-for-5 with that home run, a double and later added an RBI-single for RBI No. 101.

But the man they called Groove was hardly satisfied with that. On Aug. 25, Baylor had one of the best single days in Angels history against Toronto, as the Angels blistered the Blue Jays, 24-2. Baylor belted two home runs and drove in a career-high eight runs.

It was simply one of those seasons where everything fell into place.

"Everyday I went to the park, I knew I'd get two or three hits and some RBI," Baylor recalled. "In mid-December, I started jogging 2 1/2 to 3 miles a day, so I'd be in the best shape ever. In 1978 I hit 34 home runs and 99 RBI, and I was really longing for that 100th. After April, I had (nearly) 30, and I knew I was on a roll."

In addition to leading the league in RBI and runs scored, Baylor also led (or tied for the lead) the Angels in home runs, triples (5), doubles (33) and stolen bases (22). He played in all 162 games and, perhaps most amazingly, struck out only 51 times in 628 at-bats.

For the Angels in 1979, Baylor was without question their MVP: Most Valuable Producer.

5. Darin Erstad (2000)

Darin Erstad's 2000 season was a good one and nearly rivaled Mike Trout's rookie campaign which came in 2nd in our single season top player performance rankings. I almost ranked Ersty's 2000 season right behind Trout's 2012, but had a hard time putting him above two players who actually won the American League Most Valuable Player award for the Angels.

Either way, Erstad cracked the list. Here's more on Ersty's outstanding 2000 campaign.

Few who are familiar with recent Angels history would be surprised that the man at the center of the team's most memorable comeback of the 2000 season was Darin Erstad. Even though his teammates were hitting home runs at a record pace, there was never any question about who was that season's MVP.

And no game better illustrated the magic of that year than this shocker in the Bronx.

Early on, it was like so many Angels/Yankees games of the past, with the Angels scoring one run and the Yankees answering with two. And two more. And two more. After the sixth inning, New York led, 8-3, and Roger Clemens found his groove, retiring the Angels in order in the seventh and eighth.

And though he'd already thrown 119 pitches, Clemens came out for the ninth. Singles by Troy Glaus and Bengie Molina sent him to the showers, however, and reliever Jeff Nelson was summoned to quell this minor uprising. Nelson retired Adam Kennedy on a flyout, but walked Kevin Stocker to load the bases, convincing Joe Torre to go to his bullpen ace, Mariano Rivera. And when Erstad hit into a fielder's choice at third, the Angels gained a run, but were now down to their last out against the game's premier closer.

But then the Angels grabbed a bit of that Yankee Stadium "mystique and aura" for themselves when Orlando Palmeiro laced a double into right field to score Stocker and cut the Yankees lead to 8-5. Two pitches later, Mo Vaughn launched an 0-1 Rivera cutter into the upper deck in right field, tying the game and bringing the Angels all the way back from an 8-3 ninth inning deficit.

"Until the game is over, you keep battling," Erstad said. "How many times are you going to see that kind of comeback in your career, against one of the best pitchers ever and one of the best closers in the game? That's why we play until the last out."

The Yankees didn't quit, either, and appeared poised to snatch back the victory in the bottom of the tenth when pinch runner Luis Polonia reached third with two outs and Derek Jeter was intentionally walked in favor of Jorge Posada. Posada smashed a drive into the left-center gap that had walk-off written all over it. Somehow, Erstad, motoring from over near the left field line, managed to get close enough to make a full-extension dive on the ball already past him, reaching out and hauling it in before crashing violently onto the outfield grass.

"I thought it split the gap when he hit it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "All I can say is incredible."

Many Yankees had already spilled out of the dugout to celebrate, most then lingering in amazement that they had not just won the game.

"I thought the game was over," Clemens said. "That was one of the top three catches I've seen in my years in the game."

Instead the Angels players were the ones celebrating, greeting Erstad in foul territory and mobbing him in the dugout.

"They wouldn't leave me alone, and I'm like, 'I've got to go hit, leave me alone,'" Erstad said.

Due up second in the eleventh, the Erstad Show was primed for an encore. After Stocker's failed bunt attempt, Erstad lofted a Mike Stanton offering high into right field and just over the fence to give the Angels a 9-8 lead. The Yankees went 1-2-3 in the bottom half and the Angels won a game they twice seemed sure to lose.

"Posada smoked that ball," Erstad said of his catch in the tenth. "It was just one of those things. You just react and let your ability take over."

Whether it was ability, luck, grit or some combination of all three, Erstad's 2000 season is arguably the greatest offensive (and defensive) performance in franchise history. He batted .355 with 240 hits (No. 13 all-time), 121 runs scored, 39 doubles, six triples, 25 home runs, 28 stolen bases and an unprecedented 100 RBI, all from the leadoff spot, the first player ever to reach the century mark from the top of the order.

He was eighth in the A.L. MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger award.

In a word, Erstad in 2000 was incredible.

Excerpts from our Top-50 Greatest Moments in Angels Baseball written by Adam Dodge & Geoff Bilau contributed to this feature along with Chuck Richter who ranked the top-5 player performances.
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