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It’s a Long Day at the Ballpark

The halo is tightening.

No more monkeying around.

The red has risen from the jersey to the cheeks, and that spirit in the sky is about to rain.

The newly named Mad As Heck Angels of Anaheim came home Tuesday to boos, a major benching and a desperate bullpen injection.

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None of which prevented them from falling two games behind a team they should cream.

The 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Oakland Athletics in the first of this three-game showdown was but another stone in the eye of a once-pleasant giant who is now about two slingshots shy of full distress.

“The talent is here,” said General Manager Bill Stoneman tightly before the game. “The production has to happen.”

So it was that, before engaging the A’s, Tuesday the Angels stared down themselves.

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First, they benched, for maybe the rest of the season, the guy who had the biggest clutch hit in Southern California last year.

“I’m not mad at them for doing it,” said struggling Steve Finley slowly, angst in every syllable. “I’m mad at myself for not getting it right.”

Second, they acquired a left-handed reliever who had recently been dumped from the San Francisco Giants after ripping their manager.

“He was a guy who was available,” effused Stoneman of lefty Jason Christiansen.

Then, by normally gentle Anaheim fans, they were booed.

They were booed for hitting only two balls out of the infield in the first six innings against Barry Zito.

They were booed for striking out four times in those six innings without taking the bat off their shoulders.

There should have been more boos for Vladimir Guerrero, the most valuable player who needs to understand three more important words.

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Take a pitch!

Guerrero swung and weakly hit the first pitch in each of his first three at-bats, all outs. Then, in the ninth inning, when Zito was trying to walk him, Guerrero swung at three of the six pitches for an eventual strikeout.

Finally, with two runners on base and two out in the 11th, Guerrero looked at the first pitch, then swung at the next two, breaking his bat and grounding out to end the game,.

While the underachievers weren’t booed lustily, they were booed loud enough for the displeasure to be heard in a luxury box occupied by owner Arte Moreno and his buddy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I’ll be back?

They better.

This is a team that is more experienced, more decorated, and far better paid than the A’s.

This is a team that has a far easier September schedule than the A’s, and players who have been there and know what to do with it.

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These Angels blowing a 12 1/2 -game lead to a team of Zito, Eric Chavez and 23 Scott Somethingoranothers would weigh as heavy as a bag of Donnie Moore split-finger fastballs.

The air was so thick around Anaheim on Tuesday afternoon, Angel Manager Mike Scioscia gave a pregame pep talk ... to the media.

“We feel we know this group of guys, and they’re not going to melt,” said Scioscia. “It’s going to be tough, there’s no sugar-coating it. But these guys are good at getting through the dog days.”

Yet these days are filled with a more worrisome bark, the offense missing long-departed Troy Glaus and, yes, even David Eckstein.

One substitute was supposed to be Finley, yet he injured his shoulder in the season’s second game and has never recovered.

A weak Angel offense could no longer absorb his .215 average with just nine homers -- including a .195 average with only one homer since the All-Star break -- so on Tuesday he was finally benched.

“There’s nobody else to blame but me,” said the ever-classy Finley. “They have given me opportunity after opportunity.”

He says he still thinks he can produce if given another opportunity, but the Angels may be out of patience.

“I have a lot of pride in what I do, and I still believe I’m going to make a difference,” Finley said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make it back there.”

After dealing with the benching, the Angels addressed the bullpen. Sort of.

Seemingly needing a left-hander reliever since Jarrod Washburn faced David Ortiz last October, Stoneman finally found someone, although he looks a lot like just anyone.

Christiansen, 35, has a 5.36 ERA and allowed lefties to hit .253 against him -- worse than all Angel relievers.

The last time we heard from Christiansen, he was responding to Giant Manager Felipe Alou’s assertion that his bullpen was tired.

“He’s just now figuring it out?” Christiansen told reporters afterward. “Of course our arms are weary. We’re getting run through like a turnstile.”

Christiansen has pitched 46 innings -- less than all Angel relievers.

Yeah, that didn’t make much sense. Which makes as much sense as anything around here during these days of heavenly hell.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.


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