Commentary

Angels need their heads in the game

Updated: April 13, 2010, 10:09 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com.

NEW YORK -- Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia called the team together for a brief closed-door meeting after Tuesday's 7-5 loss at Yankee Stadium, their sixth defeat in the first eight games.

Scioscia said he "bounced some things" off his players and mentioned the word "wrench," but he didn't combine the two concepts in one sentence, tempting as that might have been.

"You get that verbal wrench out and you tighten it up, that's what you do," said Scioscia, who added, "We have different sizes, different languages."

The Angels' heads would be the right place to start if Scioscia were looking to do a tune-up. They aren't losing for lack of physical talent.

The psychiatric diagnoses of their problems vary. Some hitters are trying too hard, especially at key moments. Some members of the bullpen are having their confidence tested by early failure. Most of the starting pitchers haven't been able to repeat pitches successfully. Most galling of all for Scioscia, some players haven't been paying attention at times.

It adds up to the worst start for the franchise through eight games since 1972.

Scioscia felt compelled to call Tuesday's meeting in part because Kendry Morales lost track of the outs when he took off from second base on Jeff Mathis' popup to right field in the second inning. Morales looked up in time to see third-base coach Dino Ebel's stop sign and scrambled back to second just in time.

It wasn't the first boneheaded moment for the Angels this year. The Angels already have made six errors (a year after setting a franchise record for fewest in a season). They're also coming off a series in which the Oakland A's took extra bases on them on multiple occasions, making them look far from alert in the field.

"There are some things that happened this week that have been uncharacteristic, and I think some things have continued to snowball," Scioscia said.

Eventually, if the Angels keep scuffling along, they'll grow immune to the railings of Scioscia and the coaches. At that point, it will be up to the players. One of them, Torii Hunter, described Scioscia's words as a "pump-up speech."

You would think a group of players accustomed to reaching the playoffs, as the Angels are, wouldn't need to be pumped up less than two weeks into the season. Then again, this team lost a lot of emotional fire when John Lackey signed with the Boston Red Sox this past winter.

"I don't think it's lack of intensity," Hunter said. "You come out here every day ready to play, no matter what. You hate losing. I hope nobody feels that way over here, but I just know how I feel. I want to play and win every day."

Tuesday was a complex mix of emotions for the Angels, beginning with a horrific morning. Most of the team witnessed the aftermath of a man plunging 42 stories from their team hotel, an apparent suicide. Two pitchers, Matt Palmer and Jered Weaver, were walking across the street at the time and heard the man hit the pavement.

Later, the Angels had to watch the New York Yankees -- who beat them in October's ALCS -- hand out their World Series rings. Hideki Matsui accepted his from his former team before going 0-for-5, his worst performance at the plate this season.

"There was so much going on today, but that's not why we lost. We've been playing bad the whole time," Hunter said. "That's no excuse at all."

It's up to Hunter and the Angels' other veterans -- particularly Matsui and Bobby Abreu -- to pull the team out of this funk. The next team meeting should be called by a player.

Scene and heard

In some cities, fans automatically boo players who return after signing free-agent contracts elsewhere. A sell-out crowd at Yankee Stadium gave Hideki Matsui the loudest ovation of the day when he accepted his World Series ring before the game.

Apparently, New York fans appreciate four 100-plus RBI seasons and Matsui's contributions as October's World Series MVP. Matsui also had to step out and lift his cap after another loud ovation when he batted in the first inning.

"These fans know what's going on," Mike Scioscia said.

When Matsui got back to the dugout after accepting his ring, he actually had a cheap replica in the box. The Yankees had pranked him, though Matsui was too pumped up to notice. Yankees manager Joe Girardi ran over during introductions and gave Matsui the real thing.

"I'm just full of gratitude and deeply moved by the whole situation," Matsui said through an interpreter.

By the numbers

  • 235. That's how many games, including in the postseason, the Angels went without a grand slam before Bobby Abreu's ninth-inning blast off David Robertson. Before Abreu lifted one to right field, the Angels' last grand slam had been hit by Mark Teixeira on Aug. 3, 2008, at the old Yankee Stadium.
  • Quote of the day

    "I would never do that. I'm old-school. You might want to ask one of them young guys. They might tell you. It's kind of personal, but you know, it was a pump-up speech. That's all. Everyone knows that. He's right. We just need to go out there and play the game the way we know how." -- Torii Hunter on the Angels' postgame meeting.

    Look-ahead

    Mike Scioscia said reserve outfielder Reggie Willits probably will be activated before Wednesday's game. Pitcher Bobby Cassevah was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake Tuesday after spending four days -- and pitching three times -- with the Angels.

    Joel Pineiro will get his second start of the season, going against the Yankees' Javier Vazquez. Pineiro pitched six solid innings in his first start but gave up two home runs to the Minnesota Twins.

    Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

    Mark Saxon

    ESPNLosAngeles.com
    Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.