Darin Erstad caught that fly ball, squeezed it tightly and jumped skyward. Confetti descended from the rafters. Fireworks ascended into the night sky. The Angels went to Disneyland, of course, for a championship parade.
Then the noise sticks fell silent. The cleanup crews came. Months later, so did the new season, and this one has not been as kind to the defending World Series champions.
The crowds flocked to Edison Field, but the raucous enthusiasm did not follow until this weekend, with the Dodgers on hand. From the broom taped to the kiosk in the parking lot to the sellout audience of 43,766 chanting “Sweep! Sweep!” as Troy Percival launched a 97-mph fastball for the final out, the Angels and their fans came alive in Sunday’s 3-1 victory.
The Dodgers are sputtering these days, but then again the Angels (40-39) have been sputtering all season. They are happy with a sweep of the three-game series against the Dodgers (45-35), happier still that Erstad has cleared another hurdle in his return from a nagging hamstring injury.
For the first time in 18 games since rejoining the Angels after a seven-week stint on the disabled list, Erstad stole a base. He stole two, in fact, drove in two runs and had three hits.
“I don’t go out there and consciously try to ignite the team,” he said. “I just try to play the way I play.”
That’s difficult to do when your game relies on stealing bases, beating out infield hits, charging from first base to third on a single. There still are times, he admits, that his hamstring prevents him from trying to run, though less often now.
“I’m getting to that point where I just do it on instinct now,” he said. “That’s what you have to have to play this game effectively.”
Aaron Sele, limited to five innings as the Angels try to rebuild his stamina in his first season after shoulder surgery, shut out the Dodgers and got 11 of his 15 outs on ground balls. Manager Mike Scioscia said the five-inning restriction, introduced Sunday, would remain in force for at least Sele’s next two starts.
Scot Shields and Ben Weber passed the baton from Sele to Percival, who gave up a home run to Mike Kinkade but nonetheless got the save. Percival saved each game of the series, in which the Dodgers totaled two runs.
“It’s hard to say we’re on a roll, but we’ve won these games in different fashion than we’ve been winning,” Percival said. “We had three good pitching days. That bodes well for us.”
Said Dodger center fielder Dave Roberts: “The Angels threw the ball well, but there’s no excuse for scoring two runs in three games. It’s really disheartening when you don’t even give yourself a chance.”
Even despite a rut on offense that Roberts called “pathetic” Saturday, the Dodgers would have been tied for a playoff spot if the season had ended Sunday. The Angels clinched their first winning month Sunday; they’re 14-12 in June.
Erstad must run to spark the offense, so his stolen bases were encouraging to the team. The collective earned-run average of the starting pitching has hovered around 5.00 all season, so the weekend efforts of Sele, Kevin Appier and John Lackey were encouraging too. The trio combined to give up one run in 18 1/3 innings.
But perhaps most encouraging for the Angels were the performances of reserves Benji Gil, Jose Molina and Eric Owens. Each scored in the second inning, when the Angels tagged Dodger starter Odalis Perez for all the runs they would get.
Gil tripled, then scored on an errant relay by second baseman Alex Cora. Molina and Owens followed with singles. One out later, Erstad singled them both home.
Victory was particularly sweet for Gil and Owens, who have become the targets of impatient fans demanding that Scioscia stop playing them if General Manager Bill Stoneman will not release them. Gil is hitting .178 and Owens .232, but Gil has hit safely in five of his last seven starts, Owens in 11 of his last 13.
Not all managers, Gil acknowledges, have the patience of Scioscia.
“I’ve got to believe, at some point, there was a slight doubt,” Gil said. “He’s stuck with us and tried to keep our spirits up. It’s good for him to show confidence in players that have done well in the past. We aren’t at the top of our game right now, but that’s the way we’re going to get back to contributing.”
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*--* The Dodgers rank last in the National League in runs (277), batting average (.245), on-base percentage (.306), home runs (49) and slugging percentage (.359). A look at how the Dodgers compare in batting average and runs per game to some other Dodger teams since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958: RUNS PER GAME BATTING AVERAGE Season RPG Record Season Avg Record 1968 2.90 76-87 1968 230 76-87 1967 3.20 73-89 1967 236 73-89 1992 3.38 63-99 1989 240 77-83 1989 3.46 77-83 1984 244 79-83 2003 3.46 45-35 2003 245 45-35
*--* AL West Team W L GB Seattle 52 28 -- Oakland 46 34 6 ANGELS 40 39 11 1/2 Texas 31 49 21
*--* NL West Team W L GB San Francisco 48 32 -- DODGERS 45 35 3 Arizona 44 36 4 Colorado 42 41 7 1/2 San Diego 28 55 21 1/2