Commentary

Angels use savvy, experience to win

Lacking classic talent at key positions, the Halos cobble their way to victory

Updated: June 24, 2010, 10:25 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Angels aren't going to run away from the rest of the league with their blinding talent.

They certainly don't have a pitcher with untouchable stuff to close out games. They don't have a Triple Crown menace in the middle of their batting order. They're missing a prototypical leadoff hitter, and their infield has been cobbled together with spare parts for weeks.

But never rule out a team with this much veteran savvy.

The Angels did the equivalent of a hidden-ball trick against the younger, friskier Dodgers on Wednesday night for their latest win in this lopsided series. The Angels had no business winning this one, not after they allowed four men to get on base in the ninth. But somehow the scoreboard still said "2-1 Angels" when everybody figured out what happened.

Brian Fuentes is like a street fighter these days. He's having trouble getting hitters out, but he's scrapping his way to saves any way he can. On Wednesday, he wound up with his 12th, but pitching didn't have much to do with it.

Joel Pineiro
AP Photo/Lori SheplerJoel Pineiro has specialized in eating up innings for a scrappy team that keep finding ways to win games.

Fuentes and second baseman Howie Kendrick caught Matt Kemp straying too far from the bag. Fuentes spun and picked him off for the second out of the ninth, just as the Dodgers appeared to be snapping out of their interleague trance.

That only eased the tension temporarily, and it wasn't even the dumbest baserunning play the Dodgers had in store.

Fuentes walked Russell Martin and gave up a bloop single in front of Juan Rivera in left field. A bunch of Angels were screaming for Rivera to throw to second, because Martin had taken an overly ambitious turn and was scrambling to get back.

Rivera couldn't hear any of them, but he can see just fine. He threw out Martin before pinch runner Reed Johnson could touch the plate, ending the game.

Rivera is not the greatest athlete or the epitome of hustle, but he has aggressive tendencies and a dangerous, accurate arm.

"That was instincts," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "He saw him slip, now he's vulnerable. Go ahead and throw behind him and see what happens. It's not like you're going to get that guy at home."

As Woody Allen once said, 75 percent of success in life is just showing up. In baseball, it seems as if much of the battle is staying poised and letting others make stupid mistakes. The Angels have a roster filled with experienced players, and most nights they're perfectly willing to let the other team beat itself. That's one of the things you pay for when you stockpile veterans.

They're not perfect, but they're more fundamentally sound than most teams. Manager Mike Scioscia learned it from the Dodgers, in a different era.

"That's one of the things Scioscia works hard on, with the infielders and everybody," pitcher Joel Pineiro said. "We try to make the right plays and he tells you to be aggressive. When you're aggressive, good things happen."

Scioscia has been in the pro game for 34 years and said he had never seen a game end quite like that.

"Not a lot we did on the field worked, but fortunately we got it done," Scioscia said.

The Angels couldn't do much against the Dodgers' soft-throwing, young right-hander, John Ely, but they were fortunate to have Pineiro on the mound with a good command of his sinker.

Pineiro sees it as his duty to gobble up innings. When he's good, he can look as efficient as a hybrid car. On Wednesday, he pounded the strike zone, forcing the Dodgers to pound balls into the ground. Pineiro needed just 26 pitches to get through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. He retired 14 batters in a row before walking Andre Ethier with one out in the eighth. Eight of those outs came on ground balls.

Pineiro had sputtered a bit in the early innings, allowing six hits by the third inning. But the Dodgers couldn't make him pay for it, as he kept sidestepping disaster. With two on in the first, Kemp slammed a ball directly into third baseman Kevin Frandsen's glove. Kemp had an RBI double in the third, but Manny Ramirez couldn't score from first even though there were two outs when Kemp hit it to the wall in left-center.

Scene and heard

The Angels let three of their recent draft picks -- outfielders Chevy Clarke and Ryan Bolden and shortstop Taylor Lindsey -- take on-field batting practice Wednesday, then they brought them in the clubhouse to meet some players.

As usual, Hunter broke the ice, introducing himself to the three teenagers. Then he called over fellow veteran Bobby Abreu.

"Bobby, come meet the future," Hunter said. "When you and I are coaching, these will be the guys up here."

Teams bring in young players to get a sip of major-league life before they begin the long process of climbing through the bush leagues. Scioscia remembers his experience with the Dodgers when they visited his hometown of Philadelphia in 1976 after selecting him with the 19th overall pick. Tommy Lasorda picked him up and drove him to Veterans Stadium.

"My parents didn't know I went," Scioscia said. "I just got picked up at noon, left them a note and I didn't get home until 1 in the morning. They weren't real happy."

Scioscia said Steve Garvey gave him a pair of spikes and Reggie Smith let him use his bat for batting practice.

"But he said don't crack it," Scioscia said.

Quote of the day

"Once you think you've seen it all, baseball just slaps you in the face with something new." -- Hunter

Looking Ahead

The Angels can sweep the season series with the Dodgers with a win Thursday night.

Scott Kazmir (7-5, 5.08 ERA) hasn't quite put it all together yet, but he's been closer in the past month than at any time this season. In his last few starts, he's mixed in some effective sliders -- one of the keys to his success. Kazmir is 4-0 with a 2.35 ERA in June.

The Angels face knuckleballer Charlie Haeger (0-4, 8.53).

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.

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