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Defense of Title Isn’t Really Off to a Banner Start

Flapping beyond center field like a giant red curtain of majesty and promise, the Angels’ World Series championship banner was raised Sunday.

Five minutes early.

The guys with the ropes yanked it up during the middle of a commemorative video. They realized that nobody was cheering them. They hurriedly yanked it down.

It was the start of an evening during which the Angels required not a rally monkey but a groundhog.

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Anything to give them six more weeks of winter.

Their standing ovations slowed, their banquet lines closing, the champions seemed weary amid this last bit of hoopla in a 6-3 opening-day loss to the Texas Rangers.

“We didn’t do what we needed to do,” David Eckstein said.

From the flag to the finish.

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From a seven-pitch walk to the first Ranger batter ... to a four-pitch fly out by the last Angel batter.

The first game of the baseball season was a night of pump and circumstance.

Michael Young hit a three-run pump, Alex Rodriguez hit a solo pump, Juan Gonzalez hit a solo pump, Rangers all.

The first game at Edison Field since World Series Game 7 also was filled with memories.

Those were the prehistoric Halos out there dropping a throw at first base, booting a grounder at third base and collecting only one hit in three middle innings against guys named Fultz and Cordero.

What a difference a gear makes.

Last season the Angels were buoyed by the emotion that led them to the championship. On Sunday, they seemed bogged down in it.

There was the huge ovation for the starting lineup introductions, the neat throwing of a first pitch from Mike Scioscia to son Matt, the three jet fighters, the “USA” that was mowed into the outfield, and, of course, eventually, the flag.

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It was all very classy, very friendly, very Angels. They even decided to showcase the World Series trophy in a stadium concourse instead of hiding it in a front-office foyer.

But by the time their players took the field it was as if they were thinking, enough already.

“Just one more thing, the ring ceremony on Tuesday, and then it’s over,” Eckstein said with a sigh of relief.

It’s easy to forget, this is a team built for six months, not two weeks, or one series, or one game.

This is a team that works off the patient rhythms of summer, not the hyped rhythm of opening day or the frantic rhythm of fall.

The Angels triumphed last October mostly because they refused to be swallowed by October.

They looked hurried Sunday. They looked like a team that couldn’t hear that rhythm, and knew it.

They looked as if they wanted everyone to leave so they could begin the long and unglamorous task of defending their title.

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As Eckstein said, it was as if they couldn’t wait for Wednesday.

Afterward, the media crowded Scioscia’s office as if it were a playoff game.

“Why don’t you demand a bigger office?” someone joked.

“I’d like a smaller one,” Scioscia said.

It was as if they all wanted the same thing.

In the last game at Edison Field, we watched John Lackey become the first rookie to win a World Series Game 7 in 93 years.

On Sunday, we watched him become baseball’s first losing pitcher by pitching distracted, allowing an exact handful of runs in precisely a handful of innings.

“Last year is not something that’s going to help us out now,” he said, a truth which took exactly 2 hours 54 minutes to sink in.

In the last game at Edison Field, we watched Troy Glaus win a World Series MVP award.

On Sunday, we watched him miss a grounder and bobble a bunt and just miss several pitches while batting with a tendinitis-plagued wrist.

He batted sixth in the order because of concern about the wrist. Despite two singles, here’s guessing he will remain there for a bit.

“That’s the only issue we have, and we think he’s going to be fine,” Scioscia said.

A tough encore, a scary injury, not a great start, but nothing that can’t be fixed by a monkey, right?

Well, the rally monkey finally showed up in the bottom of the ninth with the Angels trailing by three runs and nobody on base.

Eleven pitches later, he disappeared, three Angel hitters swinging wildly at Ugueth Urbina, the new Ranger closer.

The good news for the Angels is that sore-shouldered Jarrod Washburn threw 93 pitches in a minor-league exhibition game and will start Saturday in Oakland.

The better news is that, by then, the opening-week furor will have faded and last year’s lights will have temporarily dimmed and they can begin the task of becoming the Angels again.

“We just need to push that boat off the dock,” Scioscia said, which is exactly what he said last year, and makes even more sense now.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.


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