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Angels finally create some buzz

Angels manage to not turn in another yawner

As the evening began, there was a Memorial Day buzz at the Big A on Monday night that had little to do with the major league baseball team that plays there.

That came later.

The huge flag they unfurled before the game against the San Diego Padres, covering the entire outfield and again bringing to the forefront thoughts of those who serve and protect, was much more in line with holiday spirit than the team about to play there.

It isn't that the Angels are bad. That would somehow almost be better, like the terrible and entertaining New York Mets of yesteryear. At least you could laugh about them.

Stumblebums can be fun. Not these Angels. They are hardly stumblebums, nor can they afford to be with the salaries they are paying some of these guys. At this stage, with this team, you just sort of shrug.

They began the game with a 22-22 record. Yawn.

They are back home after a 10-game trip in which they were 5-5. Yawn.

On the final two games of the trip, they turned their former catcher, Boston's Mike Napoli, into Ted Williams.

This was the team with the 98 victories last year, most in baseball. Expections were no different for this year.

Mike Trout, the league's most valuable player last year, looks even better this year. David Freese is having a better year. Erick Aybar is his usual sound self in the field and better at the plate. Kole Calhoun has become a legitimate big league player and is even batting cleanup. New second baseman Johnny Giavotella is a feisty, productive little gnat in the field and the batting order.

The starting pitching has been strong, and the cleanup crew of eighth-inning Joe Smith and closer Huston Street have been nearly impeccable. This is not the gang that couldn't shoot straight. It's the group that, most often so far this season, can't hit a lick. At least not anywhere near what they are supposed to.

Yes, it is only May. Yes, this is a marathon and not a sprint. You always hear that from struggling teams and their managers.

But 22-22 is a buzzkill. And in an L.A. marketplace, with dozens of sports choices, that's life-threatening. Manager Mike Scioscia denies none of this.

"It's simple," he said. "We have pitched well and haven't hit." Then he turned and asked whether his team was still last in on-base percentage. The answer was yes.

Which brings us to Albert Pujols, certain Hall of Fame member. Well before the game, he sat in a corner of the dugout, sweat pouring off his face from the pregame work that he put in. That he always puts in.

As if in answer to Scioscia's pregame comments, Pujols said, "We'll be all right. I feel like we are going to get on a run here. This is a better hitting team than we are right now."

It is one thing saying it. It is so much better doing it.

Flash forward four hours later.

The score is tied, 3-3. That's after the Angels have, again, given up a lead and failed to hit several times in the clutch. That's after Scioscia has pulled a shutout-pitching Jered Weaver with two outs in the sixth inning and later likely wishes he hadn't. The Padres score three runs and the score is tied, 3-3.

Will this be more disappointment? Will Angels mediocrity get another notch in its belt? Will the buzz get killed some more.

Then there is Pujols, walking to the plate. There are two outs, the bases are loaded, and one of the more unusual things you will see in baseball occurs.

Manager Bud Black and his Padres have just walked somebody to load the bases and get at Pujols, among the best hitters ever.

Yes, that somebody was Trout, but still. This was Albert Pujols.

Quickly came the reminder. Pujols may be hitting .228, but he is still Albert Pujols. Sorry Bud Black. Big mistake.

The hard shot went between short and third. Game over. Angels win, 4-3. It is Pujols' 18th career game-winning hit.

Now, 23-22 feels a whole lot better than where the night started. The place is abuzz, in all corners. Padres fans had made the trip to Anaheim in big numbers and had made big noise. Now they could buzz to the exits, talking about putting Pujols at bat with the bases loaded.

Pujols tells the TV interviewer basically what he said four hours earlier.

"Things are gonna click," he said.

In the clubhouse, Trout seems as happy as if they had let him finish off the Padres, rather than Pujols.

"He always comes up big," Trout said. "I was ready to hit, but Albert knows how to handle big situations. He knows how to keep his emotions in check."

Across the clubhouse, Weaver is taking the high road on getting yanked. It is fair to say his first reaction to Scioscia's hook was to ponder strangulation. But he stayed the course.

"I told him I was still good," Weaver said. "But that I was comfortable with whatever he wanted to do. Obviously, it didn't work out."

For a team badly in need of a boost, a holiday party upon its return, it did work out.

Spectacularly.

The fireworks cranked up shortly thereafter. This time, instead of those being the main excitement, the 38,055 on hand got an additional big blast for the price of one.

Maybe it's finally a start for the Angels. Or, maybe it was just an interruption in the mediocrity. Hard to say.

This is, after all, a marathon and not a sprint.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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