The champagne-and-beer showers, the ear-thumping hip-hop music and dancing, the victory cigars -- all the trappings of a traditional division-winning celebration would have to wait.
Before the revelry came a remembrance.
The Angels clinched their fifth American League West title in six years with an 11-0 romp over the Texas Rangers in Angel Stadium on Monday night, and after a huge group hug in the middle of the infield, players and coaches quickly retreated to the clubhouse.
But before any corks were popped, Manager Mike Scioscia spoke for several minutes about the fallen Angel, Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old pitcher who was killed along with two friends in a car crash on April 9, just four days into the season.
“It was definitely very emotional,” reliever Kevin Jepsen said. “It was Scioscia saying, ‘No matter what happens, everywhere we go, Nick is with us.’ He’s been with us the whole way, and he’s pulling for us. He was a part of this team. He can’t be here to celebrate with us, but he’s in our hearts.”
The Angels got the party started, dousing each other with large quantities of booze, but Adenhart was again in the middle of it, a clubhouse attendant taking Adenhart’s No. 34 jersey around the room and players pouring beer and champagne on it.
The Angels then jogged en masse to the center-field wall, where a picture of Adenhart in mid-pitching motion has been affixed since the tragic crash. Players bowed their heads, tapped Adenhart’s face, and some poured beer over his head.
“Nick Adenhart should be here celebrating with us,” center fielder Torii Hunter said. “But the good Lord took him. Now, we’re just celebrating in his name. He’s a very important part of the team. We’re playing hard for him. Trust me, he’s here in spirit and in love.”
The Angels have gotten used to such celebrations, having advanced to the playoffs in six of the last eight years and winning the World Series in 2002.
“They never get old,” said pitcher John Lackey, the Game 7 winner in the 2002 World Series. “You’ve got to celebrate, for sure. We’ve been together since the middle of February, it’s been a long journey, and a lot of things didn’t go as planned.”
For that reason, many Angels said, this celebration felt different.
“This one is special because we’re one short,” pitcher Joe Saunders said of Adenhart. “We miss him. We wish he was here with us. This season is dedicated to him. We’re celebrating for him and for his family. We’re trying to win this thing for him.”
Added Lackey: “He’s definitely in our thoughts. This is the first step of our goal. We’re going to take him all the way.”
The next step is a likely AL division series rematch with the Boston Red Sox, who eliminated the Angels in the first round of the playoffs in 2004, 2007 and 2008 and need just one victory, or one more Texas loss, to clinch the AL wild card.
“They’re going to get a battle,” Saunders said. “They’ve had our number in the postseason. We’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going to give them everything we’ve got, and hopefully, we’ll play until November.”
The Angels achieved their first goal Monday night by crushing their closest pursuers in the division, throttling the Rangers with their bats and smothering them with their pitching and gloves.
Ervin Santana, who entered with a 7-6 career record and 6.67 earned-run average against Texas, threw a seven-hitter for his second shutout of the season, and the Angels racked up 12 hits, including three each by Bobby Abreu and Maicer Izturis.
Vladimir Guerrero hit a run-scoring double and Kendry Morales followed with a towering two-run home run to center field in the first inning, giving the first baseman 33 homers and 104 runs batted in on the season.
Erick Aybar hit an RBI fielder’s choice in the third, and Izturis keyed a three-run third with a two-run single.
Abreu tripled and scored in the fourth and hit an RBI double and scored on Hunter’s single during a three-run sixth.
While the Rangers committed three errors that led to two unearned runs, the Angels sparkled defensively, turning three double plays, two of them started by Morales.
“Honestly, I think there were bigger powers looking down on us tonight,” Saunders said. “Everything was going our way. Ervin pitched an outstanding game, we hit the ball everywhere. It was one of those nights where we weren’t going to be beaten.”
The Angels have six more regular-season games to rest up and gear up for the playoffs. Considering how much they’ve struggled during a September in which they are 14-12 and averaging only 4.2 runs a game, it is important to gain some momentum going into the postseason.
The Angels won 100 games and clinched the division on Sept. 10 last season, but they did not peak in October and were ousted by the Red Sox in the division series.
“We’re going to try to bring [Adenhart’s] ring back home for him and give it to his parents,” Hunter said. “But first, we’ve got to get past the first round.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Angels’ playoff history
*--* Year Round Opponent Result 2008 AL division series Boston Red Sox Lost, 3-1 2007 AL division series Boston Red Sox Lost, 3-0 2005 AL Championship Series Chicago White Sox Lost, 4-1 AL division series New York Yankees Won, 3-2 2004 AL division series Boston Red Sox Lost, 3-0 2002 World Series San Francisco Giants Won, 4-3 AL Championship Series Minnesota Twins Won, 4-1 AL division series New York Yankees Won, 3-1 1986 AL Championship Series Boston Red Sox Lost, 4-3 1982 AL Championship Series Milwaukee Brewers Lost, 3-2 1979 AL Championship Series Baltimore Orioles Lost, 3-1 *--*