- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- At least the Angels picked up almost 6,000 extra frequent-flyer miles. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.
After extending the ALCS with a dramatic rally in Game 5 at home, the Angels eliminated themselves from the ALCS with an awful loss that made you wonder what the point was of flying back to New York and sitting through a rainout. The Angels made five errors (not including a botched popup) while losing the first two games, made another error while getting blown out in Game 4, and then added two more ghastly errors in losing 5-2 to the Yankees in Game 6 on Sunday night.
That's eight errors in all. Which begs the question: How would the Angels have fared if they had been fundamentally sound?
"I would have said no way we would have that many errors or anything like that,'' center fielder Torii Hunter said. "Defensively, I thought we were sound all season. And then we get into the playoffs and things just happened. I don't know why. It's probably mental, I'm pretty sure. We just made too many mistakes.
"Just looking back, we didn't play Angels-style baseball. We might have played one game, two games the Angels way. We just kind of got away from that a little bit.''
The two errors in Game 6 came right after the Angels overcame a bad start by Joe Saunders -- he allowed five walks and seven hits in 3 1/3 innings -- to close the gap to 3-2 in the top of the eighth inning, and both errors came on consecutive sacrifice bunts. First, Howie Kendrick dropped a throw while covering first base, and then reliever Scott Kazmir threw a ball over Kendrick's head on the next bunt. Thanks to those ridiculous plays, the Angels were down by three runs with three outs left against Mariano Rivera.
"I was kind of in between,'' Kazmir said of his throw. "I wanted to step and throw to him, but then I saw [Kendrick] still on the move so I wanted to ease up and lead him a little bit and I airmailed it.''
The mistakes weren't just physical, however. Vladimir Guerrero had three hits on Sunday, but his head wasn't entirely in the game. In the first inning, he was inexplicably doubled off first base when he strayed way too far off the bag on a routine fly out to right field. In the eighth inning, he jogged most of the way to first base after a ball on a 2-2 pitch. In his defense, Guerrero walks so seldom he might have thought that you only need three balls for one.
Guerrero struggled horribly in several previous postseasons but he hit well this October, delivering a key two-run single in the clinching game against Boston in the American League Division Series, hitting a two-run homer to key a Game 3 rally against the Yankees, and batting .370 in the ALCS with a team-high five RBIs. The question is whether he, ace John Lackey or third baseman Chone Figgins (who hit just .130 in the leadoff spot in the postseason) will return next season or sign elsewhere as free agents.
We didn't play Angels-style baseball. We just kind of got away from that a little bit.
”-- Angels center fielder Torii Hunter
"I would like to continue to play with the guys here and I've gotten to know them and the system,'' Guerrero said in Spanish through an interpreter, "but I've also gone through free agency before and I know what it's like. At the same time, I'd like to continue on with the guys here.''
Guerrero said this Angels team was undoubtedly the best with which he's played. It undoubtedly endured more, beginning with the car crash that killed rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart in April.
"We had to overcome a lot of obstacles,'' Hunter said. "The death of a teammate, a lot of injuries to key players, a lot of young guys pitching up from Triple-A. But we battled and did what we had to do. It was a great season and nothing to really hang our heads over.''
The Angels have been the pride of the AL West since 2002, when they won the World Series, but they haven't been able to return to the Series since then. The Red Sox eliminated them in the ALDS three times, and while the Angels finally got past Boston this year, they couldn't overcome the Yankees. Or themselves. Hunter said the key difference for the Yankees was maturity.
"There's a lot of experienced guys over there," Hunter said. "They know how to execute and play the game.
"It's tough for me. I've been battling those guys for years. First with Minnesota, and then I come here and the same thing. I'm used to getting beat down by those guys.''
Hunter repeatedly said the Yankees capitalized on every mistake the Angels made. "The two games here, they scored runs every time we made errors,'' he said. "That's something we have to work on next year. Right now, it's over.''
It's over for 2009, but the good thing is that even if the Angels don't re-sign all their potential free agents, they still have the talent to return to the postseason next October. In the meantime, they have 117 days to mull over their mistakes in the ALCS before they hold their first fundamental drills of spring training.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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