Angels mix myth and magic in opening-day win

The concept of opening day in baseball is flawed, mostly because baseball never closes. Also because opening day usually happens at night.

That was the case Monday at Angel Stadium, when the usual red sea of fans descended on the proceedings, the Angels made starting pitcher Scott Baker of the Minnesota Twins throw 30 pitches just to get out of the first inning, including the first 10 against leadoff hitter Erick Aybar, and the 2010 season was underway in Anaheim.

The Angels are favored to win the American League West for the fourth straight season, and they looked quite capable of that in their 6-3 victory.

Talk about great beginnings.

Hideki Matsui and Kendry Morales took a game that had chugged along until the eighth and smashed it wide open with consecutive towering home runs.

When last we saw these Angels, icy rain and chilling wind in New York were making their American League Championship Series with the Yankees difficult. A pop fly dropped between shortstop Aybar and third baseman Chone Figgins in the first inning of the first game, and the Angels struggled to hang on through six games.

The Yankees, of course, went on to win the World Series, which brings up another flaw in the concept of opening day, that being that all 30 teams have an equal chance of winning. The road to a World Series ring does not go through Pittsburgh or Kansas City. It goes through the Yankees’ bank vault.

The Angels are among those teams with a chance. In baseball, there are the poor, the aspiring and the New York Moneybags. Sometimes, the aspiring can steal some of the magic, maybe even bring an omen along. The popup that seemed to freeze Figgins and Aybar and set a deer-in-the-headlights mood for the Angels the rest of the way was hit by Yankees veteran Matsui.

In the off-season, the Angels signed Matsui out of free agency. Monday night, he batted cleanup, and did exactly that. His addition is more than just that of another good player. He is revered in Japan, and with him comes a media horde. Angels Manager Mike Scioscia took his usual seat in the dugout for his pre-game news conference, bat in hand as always, and attracted a three-and-four deep crowd.

The Angels have taken heat for annexing Los Angeles to their name. But if media interest is any measure, they are now the Hideki Matsui Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Dividends were immediate. In the fifth, scored tied, 3-3, Matsui hit an 0-2 pitch into right field, driving in a run for a 4-3 lead.

There were 104 credential requests from Japanese media outlets, which is further indication of the genius of Arte Moreno’s ownership. Calculating $10 a head for meals in the press box, for 104 reporters, for 81 home games, plus playoffs, brings about $100,000.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Koufax and Drysdale held out for about that. All this talk about how to create new revenue, and Moreno out-slicks them all.

Baseball has marketed the opening day concept perfectly, even though it is more ritual than reality. Reality is that the games end and the deals begin. The off-season is the real season. Trading and talking about trading, signing and sealing, are the real national pastimes. Ask any newspaper baseball writer about the length or his or her off-season and they’ll answer Jan. 3 to 8.

Monday night’s ritual fit the myth for the sellout crowd of 43,504. Tim Salmon, former Angels great, threw out the first ball. There was a jet fly-over. A young girl sang the national anthem. Other former greats such as pitcher Bert Blyleven, on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame, came to watch and recapture the old feeling.

How many opening-day games did you start, Bert?

“About a dozen.”

How many did you win?

“No idea. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast.”

And so it began, on a cool spring night. Only 161 games to go, plus playoffs.

Scioscia, asked to verbalize an opening day meaning, called it straight, as is his tendency.

“I’d say something about it being good to push the boat off the dock, but that’d probably make you guys puke,” he said.