The Angels watched the sun set in the East on Sunday and the sun rise in the West this morning, the strange day-turned-into-night, night-turned-into-day effect caused by the rare combination of an 8 p.m. EDT game in Fenway Park and a red-eye flight home afterward.
But if you think the Angels will feel a little disoriented after flying all night and getting a few hours of sleep before opening a big three-game series against Oakland tonight, imagine how they would have felt had they not whipped Boston, 10-4, Sunday night to take two of three games from the Red Sox.
“This is huge,” said right-hander John Lackey, who gave up four runs -- three earned -- and nine hits in six bend-but-don’t-break innings to improve to 10-6. “A 5 1/2 -hour flight can feel like nine hours if we lost. It’s definitely going to be a lot easier after a win.”
Some teams would cringe at such a grueling travel schedule before an important series, but these Angels, who remain half a game behind the first-place A’s in the American League West, are proving to be a resilient bunch, on a large and small scale.
They rebounded from an atrocious three-month start with a major league-best 19-6 July to thrust themselves into the division race after beginning the month with a seven-game deficit.
They responded to pleas to acquire an impact bat before today’s trading deadline by raising their overall production, with players such as Juan Rivera (.368, 10 home runs, 24 runs batted in this month), Maicer Izturis (.375, 21 runs, 13 RBIs in 21 games) and Howie Kendrick (.474, 10 RBIs in nine games) keying a surge that has included the Angels’ hitting .354 with 42 runs (8.4 average) in the last five games.
And they bounced back from Saturday’s gut-wrenching, 11-inning loss, a game in which the Angels blew a three-run, eighth-inning lead, by trashing one of baseball’s best pitchers, 13-game winner Curt Schilling, for six runs and 10 hits, including third-inning homers by Orlando Cabrera, Vladimir Guerrero and Rivera, in five innings.
“That shows a lot about this team,” Lackey said. “Extra-inning games are tough. You put a lot of time and effort into them, and they’re a bummer to lose. This is big.”
So was Guerrero’s 21st home run of the season and first since July 15, a blast off a hanging split-fingered fastball that was hit so high above and so far beyond the Green Monster in left field it looked as if it might land on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
“I’ve never seen a ball hit that far here,” Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy said.
Perhaps not as majestic but just as impressive as the Angels’ first three-homer inning since Sept. 11 against the Chicago White Sox was the way they responded to Boston’s three-run rally in the fifth, which cut the Angels’ lead to 6-4.
Rivera and Kendrick singled to open the top of the sixth, and Mike Napoli walked to load the bases. A run-scoring single by Chone Figgins, a two-run double by Izturis and Cabrera’s sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 10-4.
That sealed the win for Lackey, but it came with a few labor pains. Poor decisions by Kendrick, the neophyte first baseman, and Lackey led to two defensive lapses in the first inning, and the Red Sox mounted numerous threats through five.
But Lackey struck out Trot Nixon with runners on second and third to end the third and Mike Lowell with two on to end the fifth, minimizing damage. Brendan Donnelly (two scoreless innings) and Kevin Gregg (scoreless ninth) finished up, and then it was off to the airport.
They may feel a little discombobulated when they arrive at Angel Stadium for tonight’s game against the A’s, “but that’s part of baseball, we can’t use it as an excuse,” Figgins said. “It’s going to be tough, but we’ll play hard. We’re just going to enjoy this one on the plane tonight ... I mean this morning.”