Commentary

Angels shaken up by Brewers, earth

Just after Eric Aybar was carried off the field, an earthquake rattled Angels Stadium

Updated: June 15, 2010, 10:30 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- About 20 minutes after the Angels carried shortstop Erick Aybar off the field with a hyperextended left knee Monday night, the earth shook.

It was a 5.7-magnitude earthquake centered around 150 miles south of Angel Stadium near the Mexican border.

By then, the Angels were already feeling a little queasy, but they'll be feeling downright nauseated if Tuesday's examination shows a serious injury to Aybar's leg.

It was too soon to tell Monday night and manager Mike Scioscia was holding out hope that the injury is just a mild sprain that could have Aybar back in the lineup in a matter of days. The other alternative -- something torn inside Aybar's knee -- could be a devastating blow to the Angels' postseason chances.

Aybar limped out of the clubhouse and declined to discuss the injury with reporters.

"It looked bad when it happened," Scioscia said. "He was examined. Everything sets up much better right now, and he's walking around a little bit."

If Scioscia's optimism proves hollow, the Angels could be dealing with an infield cobbled together from spare parts salvaged from Triple-A. Suddenly those happy vibes from a successful road trip -- finished on Sunday -- seem like a month ago.

[+] EnlargeErick Aybar
AP Photo/Jae C. HongLos Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, right, grimaces after colliding with Milwaukee Brewers' Casey McGehee in the seventh inning in Anaheim. Aybar's status is uncertain after injuring his knee on the play.

It was a freak play, but when you've lost a player while celebrating a home run, anything that happens in a game doesn't quite fit in that category.

Milwaukee Brewers slugger Casey McGehee slid hard into second base trying to break up a double play in the seventh inning. Aybar was in an awkward position, leaping for an errant throw from first baseman Kevin Frandsen.

He landed just as McGehee's bulky body was rolling through the bag. Aybar's left leg was caught underneath, his knee buckling.

Aybar is one of the best-fielding shortstops in the game, and he was the team's hottest hitter as of late, batting .382 in June. The injury comes just as he seemed to be settling into the leadoff duty. Worse is what it does to the rest of the Angels' infield, which already has been stretched by the loss of Kendry Morales.

Without Aybar, the Angels will be forced to use Maicer Izturis at shortstop. That leaves them, for now, with Frandsen at third base and either Robb Quinlan or Michael Ryan at first -- not exactly the way to beat down the doors to October baseball.

You can debate the merits of McGehee's hard slide all you want -- the score was 9-2 at the time and he was on base because reliever Trevor Bell had drilled him in the ribs with a fastball -- but the Angels can't undo it, no matter how loud they yell. The question is, can they recover from it?

Neither Scioscia or Angels veteran Torii Hunter seemed upset about the slide after the game. They each characterized it as clean, hard-nosed baseball.

"Guys got kind of heated, but I looked at the replay and it wasn't that bad," Hunter said. "He did what he had to do. Sometimes, it's a lost art in the game. The league's a little softer, but I like it."

There were some hackles raised at the time, though. The two dugouts seemed to be exchanging words and Angels reliever Rafael Rodriguez later hit Craig Counsell with a pitch. The fans booed McGehee the next time he came up.

Angels pitcher Joe Saunders (5-7) had a bad night. His defense helped him with an inning-ending double play in the fifth but hurt him in the sixth, when Hunter turned what could have been a double -- and nearly was an out -- into a home run.

Hunter leaped to grab McGehee's drive and briefly had it in his glove before colliding with the 7 -foot wall and fumbling it over the fence. Saunders had a pained grin on his face watching from the mound, and McGehee had a sheepish smile on his face when he touched the plate after the Hunter-aided home run.

"That was just terrible. Charles Barkley terrible. I never had that happen in my career and I don't like it," Hunter said. "I can't even explain that. It was just ugly."

Hunter is a nine-time Gold Glove winner, but this could be the season that ends that string. He has not had as many opportunities to make highlight-reel plays and, at times, has had trouble seeing balls hit in the air. He couldn't see a high drive hit by Manny Ramirez that went for a double Sunday at Dodger Stadium. He had similar problems in a day game at Yankee Stadium earlier this year.

On Sunday, pitcher Jered Weaver looked a bit perturbed that Ramirez's fly wasn't caught. Not that Angels pitchers should complain, considering Hunter has taken extra-base hits away routinely over the past few years.

Delayed return

The Angels were hoping to have Jeff Mathis back by now, but the catcher re-injured his right hand while playing in a minor-league rehab assignment Friday. He won't join the Angels until they travel to Chicago over the weekend, Scioscia said.

Mathis got back on the field at least, with a double and a triple in his first two at-bats for Triple-A Salt Lake on Monday. He missed this weekend's games after a ball in the dirt hit his right thumb. Scioscia insists it's not a long-term setback.

"We really think it's a day-to-day thing," Scioscia said.

Mathis fractured his right wrist on a similar play in April.

Scene and heard

You figure major-league ballplayers are showered with the finest, most-expensive gear for free by the sporting-goods companies, right? Pretty much, but the swag has its limits.

Kevin Frandsen is a middle infielder and third baseman by trade, so he had to borrow somebody's first baseman's mitt when he made his major-league debut there Monday night. About three hours before game time, Frandsen still wasn't sure whose mitt he would use.

"I'll ask around," Frandsen said. "There's plenty to choose from."

The Angels have used four different first basemen since Kendry Morales fractured his left ankle celebrating a game-winning home run May 29.

Quote of the day

"I didn't know I put that much weight on when we were on the road. My white pants aren't fitting. That's how long we were gone." Scioscia on the recently completed 14-game road trip.

Looking ahead

The Angels hope Ervin Santana's last outing was just a speed bump on his return to form. Santana (6-4, 3.52 ERA) got hit around in Oakland, snapping his five-game winning streak. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight of his last 11 starts.

Considering the Angels have played only seven games against the Brewers all time, it's not surprising he has never faced them.

The Angels face struggling right-hander Dave Bush (1-5, 5.06).

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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE MLB HEADLINES