Monday, July 21, 2014

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

Before you all start worrying, no, I didn’t just forget basic math. And, unlike some of my students, I can solve that problem without using a calculator (the answer is 3988, not 2014). But that’s not the point of this title and article. Sometimes things don’t just add up to the numbers. That’s especially true in baseball. As Yogi Berra once said “90% of the game is half mental.”

In the history of the Angels organization, two teams have really stood out more than the rest (aside from the original Angels): the 1986 team and the 2002 team. Both had different qualities that made them great. Both are cemented in Angels’ history.

The 1986 team will forever be known as the “Comeback Kids”. Throughout the summer, they seemed to be able to overcome any deficit. Nothing seemed out of their ability. Baseball history will forever record the Angels comeback against Detroit, down 12-5 going into the 9th inning on August 29th. With maybe 500 fans left in the stadium, Dick Shofield—a lifetime .230 batter with all of 56 career HRs—hit a grand slam, on an 0-2 count, to win the game. That was an incredible moment—one of the greatest that I have ever witnessed in baseball. The 1986 team could overcome any obstacle, and had the special character of grit and passion to make it to the post season.

The 2002 team had a different style of play. They weren’t expected to win it all. They weren’t supposed to be that good. And yet, on any given night, someone on the team stepped up to win the game and propel the team forward. They had the unlikeliest of heroes, like David Eckstein, and the power hitters, like Salmon, Glaus, and Anderson, who all gelled together to make a special team. When Oakland went on a massive win-streak, taking 20 games in a row, the Angels mostly kept pace by going 17-3. We all know how the 2002 season finished, and that’s something we’d all like to see happen again in Anaheim.

So, here are two quick questions for you to help you understand this article’s title. First, what’s so special about the number “30” to the Angels? Second, what do Hank Conger, Chris Iannetta, Mike Trout, Collin Cowgill, Howie Kendrick, Efren Navarro and Grant Green all have in common?

Now if you said number 30 means Nolan Ryan, well, I won’t be upset. Give yourself a gold star for being an Angels fan. But, that wasn’t the answer I was going for with my question.

In 2014, as of the time of this writing, the number 30 represents how many comeback victories the Angels have had this season. They are tops in the Majors in comeback victories. Over half their victories have been come-from-behind. They’ve had dramatic ones too, such as Mike Trout’s grand slam off Chris Sale, or yesterday’s arrow-pointing win off of Fernando Rodney. The 2014 Angels are playing with all the best qualities of the 1986 team.

As for the second question, what all those players have in common is that in 2014, they have all had at least one walk-off at-bat to win a game for the team. Of the 8 walk-off at-bats, 7 of them have come from different players (Mike Trout has 2 walk-offs). Nearly a third of the 2014 Angels comeback victories have come in their last AB and almost all of them have come from a different player. That’s just like the best of the 2002 team where on any given night anyone could be a hero. Everyone on the 2014 is stepping up: veterans, rookies, utility players—they are all playing to the best of their abilities to get each and every win.

I love watching the 2014 Angels team play. They are playing with heart, passion and grit. I love their little routines after victories, such as showering a teammate with Gatorade and tearing a special player’s jersey after a dramatic win. They are having fun on the field and have gelled as a team. Nothing is more fun than to see this team win and enjoy it the way we all wish we could. It brings back the best in baseball—that connection to our youth and belief that anything is possible.

The 2014 team has power, average, starting pitching and a bullpen. They have all the pieces to make it to the post season and beyond. They are combining the best of my two favorite Angels teams, and are quickly becoming a third favorite. I believe that we have yet to see all that this Angels team can accomplish, and I’m excited for the rest of the summer.

Love to hear what you think!

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

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