The Angels do not catch your fancy as a young team, Mike Trout notwithstanding.
With Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton as the sluggers, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson as the rotation anchors, Joe Smith and Ernesto Frieri as the closers, and Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar up the middle, this is not a fresh-faced group. The Angels even have Raul Ibanez, 41, the oldest active player in the major leagues.
Yet the Angels have beaten up the Toronto Blue Jays with the kids this weekend, with Tyler Skaggs carrying a two-hitter into the ninth inning and C.J. Cron hitting his first major league home run in Saturday’s 5-3 victory. Throw in seven strong innings from Garrett Richards on Friday, and the Angels appear to be more than a veteran team.
“I think it’s a really diverse team,” said catcher Chris Iannetta.
“Trout is a superstar. That goes without saying. But Trout doesn’t have to be the leader. He can just go out and be Mike Trout.”
Trout, 22, still is the youngest player on the team — one month younger than Skaggs, a year and a half younger than Cron, three years younger than Richards. If the Angels win Sunday, they would move two games above .500 for the first time in two years.
The kids put them in that position.
“That’s huge,” Trout said. “That’s a big reason we’re winning some ballgames.”
Skaggs (3-1) became the first Angels pitcher this season to work into the ninth inning. He gave up an unearned run in the first inning, then retired 21 consecutive batters, although he said he was unaware of the streak.
“I thought I walked somebody,” Skaggs said. “I zoned out, I guess.”
He was three outs away from the first complete game of his pro career — major leagues or minor leagues — but departed after giving up back-to-back singles to start the ninth. Smith gave up two hits, and two inherited runners scored, but Smith still picked up a save.
Still, Skaggs gave up two earned runs and four hits in eight innings, with no walks and four strikeouts.
“I can’t say enough about the kid today,” said bench coach and interim manager Dino Ebel.
Iannetta attributed Skaggs’ success to command of a variety of pitches. He said opponents did not walk away from the plate muttering in frustration, as they tend to do against a pitcher with an overwhelming fastball.
“You kind of hear stuff when guys are throwing 100,” Iannetta said.
Cron singled home the Angels’ first run in the second inning, then hit his first major league home run in the third, a missile into the second deck beyond left-center field.
“The first one can get a little stressful,” Cron said. “I’m glad I got it out of the way.”
Said Ebel: “When he hit it, I got chills. He crushed it pretty good.”
Cron is batting .417 in his first 24 at-bats. If he can hit right-handers, and if Ibanez cannot shake his .144 start, the Angels could have another kid in the lineup.
For now, he has the memory of the kind of no-doubt-about-it home run that inspires other players to do a bat flip. Is Cron a bat flip kind of guy?
“No,” he said. “Not yet, at least.”