Angels just keep pouring it on
8So you think you can dance? Torii Hunter does, and the center fielder showed off some slick hip-hop moves in the middle of the Angels’ wild champagne-and-beer-soaked, American League West-clinching celebration Wednesday.
It didn’t matter that the Angels had run away with their fourth division title in five years, that the combination of their 4-2 win over the New York Yankees on Wednesday and Seattle’s win over Texas pushed their AL West lead to a whopping 17 1/2 games.
This team overcame a number of injuries, many to key players, and needed just about every last drop of its 40-man roster to secure a playoff berth, and nothing was about to diminish that accomplishment.
Which is why Hunter, soaked from head to toe and reeking of alcohol, was dancing in the middle of a horde of Angels chanting his name, bringing in teammates one by one to join him while others showered him in booze.
“You know what? This never gets old,” Hunter said. “You work so hard during the season, you grind it out, you play hard, you sacrifice your body on the field . . . you have a right to celebrate.”
The Angels were deprived of the traditional on-field dog pile, because as they beat the Yankees, with Francisco Rodriguez notching his 56th save to move to within one of baseball’s single-season record, Seattle and Texas were only in the sixth inning.
A little more than an hour later, the Mariners beat the Rangers, 8-7, and the Angels were playoff bound, their Sept. 10 clinch date the earliest in AL West history, which dates back to 1969.
Several thousand fans remained in Angel Stadium watching the end of the Seattle-Texas game, and the Angels rewarded them by bringing a little of their party onto the field.
Rookie reliever Jose Arredondo grabbed a hose used to water the infield and began dousing his teammates and fans.
The Angels were just getting warmed up. In the clubhouse, players drenched owner Arte Moreno and General Manager Tony Reagins, and they didn’t hold back on each other, the party every bit as intense as if they had clinched on the last day of the season.
More than an hour after the game, it was still going strong.
“Look at these guys, swimming and dancing and going crazy, and it’s lasted a long time,” said Hunter, who wore protective goggles. “These guys don’t want to go home. People think, you have a 17-game lead, why celebrate? We worked hard for this.”
Still, there was a distinct sense in the room that the Angels’ work isn’t close to being done. They have a strong rotation and bullpen, and the July 29 addition of slugger Mark Teixeira added considerable pop.
If middle infielders Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick return from hamstring injuries, the Angels probably will be favored to win the World Series.
“This is step one -- we’re not done yet,” reliever Scot Shields said. “With the team we have, we feel like we can do some special things. Hopefully, this isn’t our last celebration.”
It was Teixeira’s first. The six-year veteran has never played in the postseason but will get his first taste of October baseball, thanks in part to his .362 average, nine home runs and 33 runs batted in since his trade from Atlanta.
“I’ve been waiting for a moment like this for a long time,” Teixeira said. “It’s sweet to be able to accomplish something like this. This team had all it needed to win the division. It didn’t need me. But I’m glad they brought me along for the ride.”
These parties have become old hat for ace John Lackey, who as a rookie helped the Angels win the 2002 World Series. Four division titles later, they have not become old.
“You can’t let these moments slide because you never know when your last one might be,” Lackey said. “But I don’t think anyone in here thinks this is our main goal. This is the first step. We have a long way to go.”
There is no doubt where that final destination should be.
“We have a great clubhouse vibe,” he said. “I liken it a lot to 2002, but I think this team has a little more talent. If we play to our expectations, I like our chances.”
If there are playoff celebrations to follow, they will begin with the Angels mobbing each other on the field.
They were deprived of that experience Wednesday, which was OK with Hunter, who sat out the game while serving a suspension, and third baseman Chone Figgins.
“In a way, that might be a good sign,” Figgins said, “because a lot of times we dog-pile on the field, people get hurt.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Early to rise
The Angels clinched the West Division title Wednesday in their 145th game. It was the earliest any AL West team has clinched the title. The earliest previous date was Sept. 15, 1971, when the Oakland A’s clinched in Game 149. A look at the previous dates the Angels have clinched the division title.
*--* CLINCHED GAME Sept. 23, 2007 Game 156 Sept. 25, 1979 Game 158 Sept. 26, 1986 Game 153 Sept. 27, 2005 Game 157 Oct. 2, 1982 Game 161 Oct. 2, 2004 Game 161 *--*
Most division titles since 2000:
*--* N.Y. Yankees: 7 Minnesota: 4 Atlanta: 6 Oakland: 4 St. Louis: 5 Arizona: 3 Angels: 4 *--*
ON THE WEB
* Angels used four relievers to clinch who looked a lot like the crew from 2002 bullpen.
* Winning the West might have looked easy, but Mike Scioscia knows that wasn’t the case.