Commentary

Angels healing, but not cured yet

Despite Matsui's home run and Abreu's walk-off, Angels are cautiously optimistic

Updated: May 27, 2010, 10:36 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Hideki Matsui shaped up the minute his dad got to town.

Masao Matsui made the 11-hour flight from Japan to see his son play at Angel Stadium for the first time this season, and Hideki -- who had been stuck in a hellacious month-long slump -- suddenly snapped out of it. Coincidence?

Maybe, but the Angels' designated hitter was looking more like Barney than Godzilla before he had a two-run home run, a bloop single and a vicious lineout to right during the Los Angeles Angels' 6-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.

"My jet lag went away in a moment," Masao Matsui said in a note he wrote to Matsui's spokesman.

The Angels haven't quite come out of their own season-long torpor, but they did some things right to atone for some things they did wrong Wednesday. The primary culprit, Bobby Abreu, had the chance to make up for it. He dropped a lazy pop-up to shallow right field for a two-run error to let the Blue Jays score an unearned run and tie it in the ninth, but then came back with a bases-loaded, two-out single off left-hander Scott Downs to score Mike Napoli with the winner.

Bobby Abreu
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillBobby Abreu celebrates his game-winning hit, but the Angels aren't ready to say they're back on track yet.

"We played a very good game, and I'm the one who screwed it up with that fly ball. You don't want to lose a game like that, so to have a nice comeback and win a game like this is perfect," Abreu said.

The Angels are staying in wait-and-see mode before they're ready to pronounce themselves cured of their early malaise. They might have felt a little better about themselves if they had parlayed Tuesday night's easy win into a more conventional victory. They had a 5-3 lead entering the seventh in a game they had trailed 3-0. Kevin Jepsen and Brian Fuentes each allowed RBI doubles to let the Blue Jays tie the game in the final three innings. Manager Mike Scioscia seemed far from thrilled, though back-to-back wins have been hard enough to come by this season.

"On some nights, you see the things you need to see on the field, and some days it just seems to be a different club out there," Scioscia said. "We're doing some things better. We need to bring more consistency to the table every day and, until we do, it's going to be a struggle."

Matsui was batting .159 in 24 games going into Wednesday, his average slipping from .310 to .231. One scout described him as looking "old" while trying to play on a severely arthritic left knee. Matsui turns 36 in a couple of weeks.

But a fly ball that landed in no-man's land in the fourth inning seemed to ignite something in Matsui. There's an old adage about bloop singles snapping hitters out of funks. The Angels are hopeful that Matsui can find a measure of comfort in the batter's box, because they need him. He began the season as their cleanup hitter and now bounces between the No. 6 and 7 spots.

Matsui said he can feel something coming.

"My last three or four at-bats, I felt pretty good, so I think there's a good chance things will get better," he said.

Shadow land

Angels players are becoming less diplomatic talking about the team's decision to play its midweek day games at 4:05 p.m. Hitters have complained about the difficulty of picking up the ball as it travels through shadows.

Now the pitchers are chiming in.

At one point Wednesday, starter Joel Pineiro said he was literally blinded by the sun during his delivery. He was trying to pitch to Vernon Wells with Adam Lind on first base and nobody out while trying to protect the lead Matsui had just handed him.

Pineiro (4-5) called out the catcher, Napoli, to the mound just to buy himself some time, hoping the sun would dip beneath the upper deck. Finally, he just had to let it go blind. It worked out: Wells hit into a double play.

"I came up to my windup and I didn't know what I was doing," Pineiro said. "[Napoli] said, 'What are you doing?' I'm like, 'What do you mean? I can't see.'"

Scene and heard

Torii Hunter sat at a table in the middle of the Angels' clubhouse Wednesday afternoon playing dominoes with Napoli and Reggie Willits. Every once in a while, Hunter's voice could be heard cracking a joke or laughing.

It was as if the life came back to the Angels' clubhouse. Tuesday felt a little weird without him. It felt a little weird to Hunter, too. He was in Arkansas watching the Angels on TV after attending his son Cameron's high school graduation.

"I was actually screaming in my bedroom watching the game," Hunter said. "I can only imagine how fans really are. I don't remember the last time I watched a game on TV."

Quote of the day

"I don't even know if I speak Japanese any more." -- Matsui's interpreter, Roger Kahlon, on his long break during Matsui's slump.

Looking ahead

The Angels have Thursday off before starting a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners. After taking two of three games in Seattle early this month, the Angels are 71-46 versus the Mariners since 2004. They haven't lost a season series to them since 2003.

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.

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