Angels’ Hideki Matsui ends season on high note
If Sunday was, indeed, Hideki Matsui’s last game as an Angel, he went out with a bang.
The Japanese designated hitter clubbed a two-run home run to right field in the fourth inning to help the Angels defeat the Texas Rangers, 6-2, in the season finale at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Peter Bourjos snapped a 2-2 tie with a solo home run to left in the sixth, and Mark Trumbo, the former Villa Park High School star, capped a three-run ninth with a two-run single for his first big league hit.
Dan Haren gave up two runs and seven hits in six innings, striking out three and walking none, to improve to 5-4 with the Angels, and Rich Thompson, Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden each threw scoreless innings.
The Angels closed with an 80-82 record, their first losing season since 2003.
Matsui, who finished with 21 homers and 84 runs batted in, singled in the seventh before he was pulled for a pinch-runner. He hit .371 (43 for 116) with seven homers and 27 RBIs from Aug. 14 on. He now has a combined 2,499 career hits, 1,390 in Japan and 1,109 in the U.S.
“It’s definitely good to see Hideki get a hold of one and finish on a positive note,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He came on like gangbusters in his last 100 at-bats.”
Matsui, 35, is a free agent, and it’s doubtful the Angels will re-sign him. The team plans to be aggressive in its pursuit of an impact hitter this winter, and the addition of such a player would probably push Bobby Abreu from the outfield to the designated hitter spot.
But Matsui will probably keep the large contingent of Japanese reporters who follow him on a daily basis busy for at least one more season.
Matsui, whose arthritic knees were strong enough for him to make 17 starts in the outfield this season, may not play in Anaheim in 2011, but Scioscia is convinced Matsui will play again.
“There is no doubt Hideki can hit and produce at the major league level,” Scioscia said. “He still has the bat speed, and we’re all impressed with how his legs have rebounded. He’s run well, and that bodes well for his future.
“As his legs have rebounded, his production has gone up. It’s definitely related. He has plenty of baseball left. He may not be as dynamic as he was four or five years ago, but he still can be an important contributor to an American League lineup.”
Scioscia said Matsui was also an important contributor in the clubhouse.
“He’s incredible,” Scioscia said. “This guy is not only a professional, he has a good sense of humor, he gets along with everybody, and he’s shown a strong sense of leadership. When a guy like Derek Jeter calls him the best teammate around, that says it all.”
Rubbing it in?
Sunday’s game turned into a college basketball senior night when Texas Manager Ron Washington removed four regulars just before the top of the sixth inning so the fans could salute them for their contributions to the Rangers’ American League West title.
One by one, shortstop Elvis Andrus, third baseman Michael Young, right fielder Nelson Cruz and second baseman Ian Kinsler came off the field to large ovations, while the Angels stood and watched … and stewed a bit.
“Some guys thought it was a little over the top, but I had no problem with it,” Scioscia said. “It’s their party, and they certainly earned the right to celebrate however they want to and push their way into the playoffs.”
Right fielder Torii Hunter said the gesture, which delayed the game by several minutes, didn’t bother him. Washington pulled Vladimir Guerrero from the game in similar fashion in the bottom of the sixth.
“It’s their stadium, they let the fans cheer for their players,” Hunter said. “What are we going to do, cry? They can do what they want. They’re the champs.”
But Hunter was also quick to add, “I would never do that.”
Asked whether the moves could fuel the Angels’ fire, Haren said, “Absolutely.” But the Angels, who missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006, will have to wait until next season to seek revenge.
“It was a little weird, a little out of the ordinary,” Haren said. “I feel bad for their pitcher [Dustin Nippert] because he was standing out there for five minutes, the first batter [Bourjos] he faces hits a home run, and he gets tagged with the loss.
“But it wasn’t like they were showing us up. I’m sure that’s not the message they were sending. But it’s been the Angels’ division for a few years, and they got us.”
Fun to the finish
Sunday was probably the last day in an Angels uniform — and possibly the last day in a big league uniform — for veteran reliever Scot Shields, who is leaning toward retirement. But that didn’t prevent his teammates ragging him right to the very end.
Shields, sidelined since Sept. 7 because of an elbow injury, was watching an NFL game on a clubhouse couch when, about an hour before the game, he popped up and jogged to his locker.
“Where are you going?” pitcher Jered Weaver asked.
“I’ve got to get ready!” Shields said.
“For what?” Weaver said. “To tie your shoes?”
After the game, Shields, one of baseball’s best setup men from 2004 to 2008 and the last remaining link to the team’s 2002 World Series championship, admitted he got “a little choked up” when he took his uniform off.
“To be honest, I’ll miss everything,” Shields said. “The competing, facing guys like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, going to work every day with the guys around here. It’s a combination of everything.”
Shields reminded reporters that he hasn’t officially retired, but when asked if he was ready to let the game go, he said, “I think so. If this is the end, I’m going to miss it, no doubt. We’ll see what happens, but my daughters are ready for me to come home.”
The Angels knew catching prospect Hank Conger could hit, but they have been just as impressed with his work behind the plate since his Sept. 6 promotion to the big leagues.
The Angels went 7-2 in Conger’s nine starts, and their pitchers had a 1.91 earned-run average in the 80 innings they threw to Conger. The Huntington Beach High product caught two shutouts.
“He has plenty of arm strength to contain most major league running games, and on the offensive side he’s ready for the challenge of the major leagues,” Scioscia said.
“The fly in the ointment is he’s only caught about 200 [professional] games. He hasn’t had enough experience to let experience be the great teacher it is.”
Scioscia didn’t rule out the possibility of Conger, who will play about half of a winter-ball season in Venezuela, competing for a roster spot next spring.
“But if he’s going to play 40 games in the big leagues compared to 120 in the minor leagues, he’s better off in the minor leagues,” Scioscia said. “If he can help us reach our goal, there will be a spot he can carve out on our roster.”