Once upon a time, fans believed in the Angels Curse.
The Curse can be traced back to the very origins of the Angels franchise. It was so pervasive, so tangible, that when Los Angeles Times sports columnist Ross Newhan wrote his book The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History the first chapter was titled, "The Parade of Agony."
After the Angels won the World Series in 2002, most folks figured The Curse had been lifted. Although valuable players continued to suffer improbable injuries — ask Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson — the Angels were competitive for the most part, and went to the post-season in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
The Curse served notice this week that it is alive and well.
The Angels entered the playoffs minus two key players. Pitcher Bartolo Colon, who won the A.L. Cy Young Award in 2005 with the Angels, rehabbed himself to the point where he made the post-season roster — only to feel a tweak in his elbow and so he was dropped from the roster. Center fielder Gary Matthews, Jr., whose power and defense were a significant upgrade from 2006, suffered a knee injury and was also dropped from the roster.
But The Curse was just getting started.
Left fielder Garret Anderson, given up for dead by lame fans and sportswriters, was his old self when finally healthy and was the mythical "big bat" the Angels supposedly needed down the stretch. But then he got an infection in his right eye. Looking like he was on the losing end of a bar fight, Garret tried to play through it but finally benched himself in the second inning of today’s Game #3.
Trainer Rick Smith was minding his own business in the visitor’s dugout at Boston when he took a line drive foul off the bat of Casey Kotchman. Smith suffered only bruised ribs, but his injury added new meaning to the adage, "Physician, heal thyself."
Pitching coach Mike Butcher fell ill as the Angels’ plane was taxiing at Logan Airport. The plane had to return to the gate so Butcher could go to the hospital.
And before game time today, it was announced that Kotchman was scratched for an undisclosed "non-baseball" medical condition.
As I’ve written several times in the last week, I didn’t think the Angels had a very good shot at defeating Boston in this series. But c’mon already. At least make it a fair fight.
It would be stupid to make sweeping conclusions about the talent on this roster based on one three-game set against the team I think will win the World Series. Yet we’re already seeing this on the fan boards where they’re calling for Stoneman to be fired, Scioscia to be fired, everyone to be fired, everyone to be traded, Arte Moreno lied to us, etc., ad nauseam.
This is a team that clawed its way to a 94-68 record this year despite the usual wave of injuries. They began the year with two key members of their starting rotation, Colon and Jered Weaver, yet thanks to the organizational depth built by Stoneman the Angels got by with Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley. Chone Figgins broke the tips of his fingers near the end of spring training, so the Angels got by with Maicer Izturis. And when Maicer got hurt, they got by with an amalgam of Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, and Matt Brown. Howie Kendrick got hurt, but Izturis and Erick Aybar stepped in. When Anderson got hurt, Reggie Willits came up and overachieved. All the while, key bullpen setup man Justin Speier was out with a mysterious stomach ailment.
The Red Sox had their share of injuries too, but the difference was they entered the playoffs healthy and exited healthy. Take away Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis, and Manny Ramirez, and let’s see how far they get.
Despite the knee-jerk reaction that the Angels’ lack of offense was the reason for the loss, the truth is there were many reasons.
The first reason, as detailed above, were the key injuries.
The second season is why the offense went cold. The injuries were part of it, but I think the big difference was Boston’s superior starting rotation. Schilling is a sure future Hall-of-Famer, and Beckett (who’s just entering his prime) could be headed there too. Colon would have played the role of veteran gunslinger, but injuries caught up to him. And Beckett pitched a game for the ages, outdueling John Lackey, who was capable of better.
The third reason was the bullpen. Boston’s bullpen proved itself to be far and away the best. Jonathan Papalbon kept his head while Francisco Rodriguez lost his, but it went deeper than that, as Scot Shields and Justin Speier were inconsistent at times. Compare Shields’ (3.86 ERA) and Speier’s (2.88 ERA) season numbers to Hideki Okajima (2.22 ERA) and Manny Delcarmen (2.05 ERA). Advantage: Boston.
The Angels could have had Alex Rodriguez in the lineup and it wouldn’t have made enough difference.
I’ll do another article in a few days in which I’ll suggest what I think the Angels need to do to improve for 2008. The above is a hint.
But we need to figure out a way to beat that **** Curse.