It was, perhaps, more than a baseball that leaped out of an Angel’s leathery grasp and disappeared into a late-summer glare.
Don’t look now, but it might have been a season.
One moment Peter Bourjos was standing under a soaring fly that would not have directly affected the Angels’ championship chase. The next moment he was looking with panic at an empty glove that might have ended it.
The Angel in the outfield blew it. The Gold Glove hopeful turned to stone. On the first Sunday of football season, the kid kicked it.
Bourjos dropped a seventh-inning sacrifice fly by the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira that turned one run into two, leading to a 6-5 loss to New York at Angel Stadium, and it was big.
Big enough to push the Angels back to 21/2 games behind the winning and first-place Texas Rangers with 16 games to play. Big enough to raise doubts about how this young and nondescript group can remain on this grand stage.
But not bigger than Peter Bourjos.
This story, you see, is not about how one of the league’s best young center fielders lost a ball in the sun. This story is about how he found himself in the darkness.
Bourjos, just 24 and ending his first full major league season, was the goat, and after the game I expected him to disappear into the back barn of the giant Angels clubhouse.
That’s what goats do. They hide from the media until they think the media have returned to the press box. They shower and shave and eat and drink and remain in exile for as long as it takes the probing questioners to push deadline or lose interest.
Peter Bourjos didn’t do any of those things. Not only didn’t he hide, he didn’t even move. He came in from the field and stood in front of his locker and waited. He waited for the media to finish questioning Manager Mike Scioscia. He waited to be ripped.
He had not showered. He had not even changed. The dozen media members walked out of Scioscia’s office after hearing the manager say Bourjos shouldn’t take all the blame, and there he was.
Taking every last murky ounce of the blame.
“That’s a play I’ve got to make, it was a turning point in the game,” Bourjos said. “We lost the game right there. That cost us the game. It’s tough to swallow.”
But apparently not too difficult to admit, which Bourjos did with plain tones, no expression, and dazzling dignity.
Yes, he said, he should have been in better position to catch the seventh-inning fly ball, which should have scored only Brett Gardner from third. No, he claimed, there was no excuse for allowing it to pop out of his glove and bounce over his head, allowing Derek Jeter also to score from first.
“I really messed up,” Bourjos said. “I did it, I have to own up to it. I’m not going to hide. I’m going to face it and move on from it.”
Some teammates saw him talking and shook their heads, not in surprise but satisfaction. Accountability is what they do here. Dealing with their frailties is how they roll here.
Their general manager fails to gird the roster with the necessary bullpen arms, their fans were overwhelmed this weekend by the louder Yankees fans, their lineup sometimes resembles the Texas Rangers’ junior varsity.
But, as the kid said, they face it and move on with it, again and again, even days like Sunday when several of them were blinded by the fight.
Mark Trumbo, likely rookie of the year, failed twice with runners on third base, including once with the bases loaded and none out. Mike Trout, rated the best prospect in baseball, couldn’t get the ball out of the infield in four attempts.
“Yeah, sometimes you start to feel it, everything hanging on a thread,” Trumbo said. “But that’s the fun of it.”
Fun? Is that what you call it? The Angels blew a lot more than a fly ball Sunday; they blew a three-run lead and a chance to sweep their way into a season-ending, 10-game trip that begins in Oakland, where they have lost six of their last seven games.
Yet the player in the middle of it all stood ready to fight his way out.
“I’m ready to get on with it,” Bourjos said. “I’m ready to get back out there and get through this.”
For the record, the sun was high and appeared to flash in his eyes as the ball descended on his glove, even if he’ll never fully admit it.
“It was not tougher than usual,” he said.
Maybe not the conditions, but certainly the kid.