There is joy again in Mudville, a.k.a. Anaheim.
The Mighty Angels are at bat, swinging them nicely, as a matter of fact. Albert Pujols too.
They lost a game Wednesday night, but not their current fastball. They trailed in the game, 5-1, and rallied back to 5-5. A month ago, a 5-1 deficit would have been a death sentence.
Just the way this game ended was more than enough to keep the interest pot boiling.
Mark Trumbo was at the plate, men at first and second, two out in the ninth, Yankees leading, 6-5. Trumbo was three for three in the game, with three runs batted in, including a two-run homer. The count went to 3-2. The sea of red numbering 40,111 was on its feet, looking for more of what they had seen recently. The Rally Monkey had stirred them up, but nowhere near as much as their team’s recent run.
In the first game of the three-game series with the Yankees, Trumbo had ended it with a home run in the ninth. Like most of his shots into the stands, it got there before much of the audience could even twitch.
Not this time. Trumbo lifted the ball toward left field, but weakly. Game Yankees. Series Angels.
Indeed, the biggest question mark in baseball has suddenly become an exclamation point. These Angels were supposed to be good. Now it appears they are. Arte Moreno’s checkbook hasn’t been looted, after all.
For a while there, things looked dire. The Angels started slowly and then got worse. For a while, it was a tossup as to where it would be tougher to find somebody -- in the witness protection program or in an Angels uniform crossing home plate. For a while, the only thing certain for an Angels baserunner was that he would gather cobwebs.
That was Awful April. The record was 8-15. Along came More-Like-It May. The record was 18-11.
Eight games do not a season make, but the winning streak that started in Oakland on May 22 certainly cleared the air. The timing couldn’t have been better. School is out soon, fans are anxious to buy tickets, and baserunners occasionally moving toward home plate make that more palatable.
The damn Yankees came to town, became victims No. 7 and 8 in the streak before ending it Wednesday night. Next up are the division-rival Texas Rangers, at Angel Stadium for three games, starting Friday. The Rangers lost to the fungo-hitting Seattle Mariners in Arlington on Wednesday night, three touchdowns to one, 21-8 (the Rangers went for two after the last touchdown). So a sweep, or even two of three by the Angels, now 51/2 games behind, would suddenly make the AL West standings look like an actual race, instead of a joke.
On Wednesday, the clubhouse reflected the current mood.
Trumbo is getting teased for the damage he did the night before to the rocks in center field. He apparently takes that into consideration when he hits his fourth homer in as many nights. This one rockets into the stands in right field.
“Can’t pay for the damaged rocks,” Trumbo says. “Can’t afford it.”
Peter Bourjos is talking about wall-crashing. He and Mike Trout had each had a close and personal experience with that Tuesday night, while robbing the Yankees’ Nick Swisher of long-ball glory.
“It’s padded,” Bourjos says. “But behind that is concrete. I’ve been losing that fight every time I hit it.”
Dan Haren is asked to analyze the mood in Awful April and says, “There was no finger-pointing. We never got too down. The bus rides were a little quieter.”
Even the writers are in a good mood. Torii Hunter, their daily manna from heaven, is back. There are quote machines in clubhouses, and there is Hunter. If there isn’t a crowd at his locker, there isn’t a game that day. With the access comes creativity, analysis and common sense. His transition from baseball to Congress will be a breeze, except he may be overqualified there.
Then there is the Rock.
Mike Scioscia leans back at his desk and responds to a question about Awful April.
“What bad times?” he says, grinning.
Pressed, he says, looking back at that time, he would express his feelings in one word.
“Mildly frustrated,” he says, laughing as he misses the word count by one.
“If a team isn’t good, you don’t get frustrated.”
Scioscia says there was never any doubt that the talent on this team would start to show through. He says that the stance was a lot of patience and a lot of one-on-one discussions.
“The best thing I’ve learned in 13 years,” he says, “is that communication is more listening than talking.” Scioscia gives an example, leaving out the names.
“You have a guy and you figure it is time for a come-to-Jesus meeting,” he says. “Then you get him in, talk to him a little and realize what he really needs is a pat on the back.”
The winning streak ended Wednesday night. The winning feeling didn’t.