Quiet red machine is a silencer
This is why you go to the ballgame.
This is why you get out of the lawn chair in the backyard, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, pack the kids in the car, stop at the ATM, drive the freeway and pause on the way to your seats for hot dogs.
It is the eighth inning at Angel Stadium, a strange 3 p.m. game time dictated by television, which now teams with the Internet to dictate just about everything in our lives.
Lots is going on. Much is at stake.
The Angels have the best record in baseball. They are quietly special this season. No huge winning streaks to get everybody’s attention. No players having career seasons, except for a relief pitcher named Francisco Rodriguez. None of their players being seen with Madonna.
Just a lot of two-out-of-three series, quietly building to a 60-38 record.
They had beaten the 2007 World Series champion Red Sox on Friday and Saturday. A Sunday victory would, to some, be a sure indicator of postseason success.
The Angels don’t bite. They are poster boys for even keel, led by their Captain Focus, Manager Mike Scioscia.
“This was no statement series,” Scioscia says. “I don’t see any carryover here. We’ve got lots of challenges ahead.”
The eighth inning begins more than two hours into the game. The Angels, outside of two mighty consecutive swings for home runs by Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter, appear to be either befuddled or lulled into a coma by Boston’s Tim Wakefield.
Wakefield is a knuckleball pitcher whose speeds vary from really slow to molasses. His pitches dart and dip, and hitting them is like trying to swat flies with a toothbrush. Catcher/broadcaster/comedian Bob Uecker once said it was easy to catch a knuckleball.
“You just wait until it stops rolling and then go pick it up,” Uecker said.
Going into the eighth, the Red Sox lead, 3-2, and Angels hitters look befuddled. Wakefield’s little offerings are floating like butterflies and couldn’t sting a bee. The crowd is quiet, maybe also befuddled by what Wakefield was doing to their Angels.
Then Juan Rivera leads off and slaps a butterfly just inside the bag at third base for a double. Reggie Willits, dressed for speed with red knee socks high, runs for him. Quickly, Howie Kendrick ties it up. He waits and waits and waits for a moth to fly into the strike zone and then lines it to left field for a double. It takes Willits less time to get home than it did Wakefield’s pitch to get to the plate.
Now it is 3-3, nobody out, and catcher Jeff Mathis at the plate with orders to bunt Kendrick to third. Wakefield has been replaced, walking off the mound slowly. (How else?)
Mathis, who has had two plate appearances against the flutterball, faces a right-hander named Manny Delcarmen, who is throwing 93-94 mph. Fireballs. For Mathis, it must have been like being plucked out of Butte, Mont., and dropped into Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Mathis battles, gets a good bunt down and the lead run is at third.
Up comes leadoff hitter Chone Figgins, and Scioscia, who loves stuff like this, admits later that he pondered having Figgins put down a squeeze bunt. Instead, he lets Figgins work Delcarmen to a 3-0 count, then 3-2 and then a walk.
With Angels on first and third, the hitter is Casey Kotchman, one of the mainstays of this season’s success. Delcarmen pitches a bullet, Kotchman returns it with a rocket to right field, Kendrick and Figgins scramble home and the score is 5-3.
Just like that. For seven innings, Wakefield had mostly made the Angels look like baton twirlers. Then, bang, bang -- Rivera and Kendrick, soon to be followed by Kotchman against Delcarmen. And it was the Angels marching to victory.
This is how it happens this year with the Angels. Quick, fast, good. Certainly entertaining.
And then, there is the ninth. Frankie Time in Angel Stadium. He is the real closer. The other one is only a TV show. Francisco Rodriguez comes in to save the 40th game of this 60-win season so far for the Angels.
When he is on the mound, it is electric. They don’t play music at his entrance like the Dodgers used to for their guy a few years ago. It’s different here. The assumption is that Frankie’s juice of choice is either orange or grapefruit.
He is all kneecaps and elbows, all of them flying at the batter at the same time as the ball. He strikes out the side in the ninth, and all three victims look as if they wish they could go home to their mommies rather than face this wild man.
With a sea of red -- the 44,164 that made up the Angels’ 16th sellout of the season -- rising for the moment, Jacoby Ellsbury waves feebly at Frankie’s last pitch. Rockets go off in center field, and Frankie points to the heavens, as he always does.
Then they clear the field and let the kids run the bases.
Which is another reason you go to the ballgame.
Bill Dwyre can be reached at email@example.com.
To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.