Angels fall short of their goal

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The news isn't all bad. The Los Angeles Angels can sleep as late as they want today, and they'll wake up two time zones and half a continent away from A.J. Pierzynski.

But for a team that outlasted the Athletics in the division, outlasted the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs and needed an intravenous caffeine drip just to crawl out of bed early last week, this was a pretty sudden, sorry way for things to end.

Arturo Moreno didn't buy the franchise two years ago just to reduce beer prices and sell Rally Monkey T-shirts. The Angels won their first championship trophy in 2002 under Disney ownership, and given Moreno's quest to make the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim a national brand, matching World Series trophies would have been quite a statement.

So much for the master plan. After losing to the White Sox in five games in the American League Championships Series, the Angels have to take stock and re-assess -- no matter how painful a process that might be.

"This stinks, and it hurts," said the always candid Darin Erstad. "It's going to take a few days."

Give the Angels this much: For ultra-competitive guys who hate to lose, they're gracious in defeat. After dropping the ALCS clincher 6-3, the Los Angeles players all showed up at their lockers for the difficult task of introspection. They accepted responsibility for their poor play, refused to blame bad breaks, quirky bounces or unfavorable umpiring calls, and went out of their way to praise the opposition.

"We flat-out got beat by a better team this week," said second baseman Adam Kennedy. "No way around that. I'll definitely have my White Sox hat on during the World Series. They're a great team, and fun to watch."

If the L.A. players don't want to parse the numbers, plenty of people will gladly do it for them. The Angels are home today because they hit .175 in four games against the White Sox, with a .200 on-base percentage and four walks in 163 plate appearances. It's rare that you see an offensive display this inept without Cristian Guzman somewhere in the vicinity.

The principal culprit was franchise player Vladimir Guerrero, who managed one hit in 20 at-bats for an average of .050 in the series. Guerrero isn't going to take abuse on the level of what A-Rod absorbed after the Yankees' first-round exit, because he's a lower-key star and Anaheim is a world away from New York. Still, it wasn't a good sign Sunday night when the Fox broadcast flashed a photo of Guerrero side-by-side with one of Dave Winfield, "Mr. May," who went 1-for-22 against the Dodgers in the 1981 Series.

The Angels continue to maintain that Guerrero's back, knees and shoulder were functional against the White Sox, but he sure looked like a man with some health issues. Vlad rarely hit the ball hard, or even worked a count; he saw a grand total of 47 pitches in his 20 at-bats.

"It's a shame it happened this way, because you know he's going to take a beating for it the way all great players do if they struggle," said teammate Jarrod Washburn. "The bottom line is, Vladimir Guerrero is still one of the best players in this game."

Angels fans who don't want to Vlad-bash can point to several bizarre plays that worked out badly. You can start with Game 2, when umpire Doug Eddings' non-call on a third strike to Pierzynski set the stage for Joe Crede's winning hit. Move on to Game 4, when Angels center fielder Steve Finley grounded into a costly double play after home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa failed to call catcher's interference on Pierzysnki.

Then conclude with the eighth inning of Sunday's game, when the winning run scored after a strange play involving -- who else? -- Pierzynski. Angels reliever Kelvim Escobar fielded a Pierzynski chopper and made a routine tag with his glove, but Pierzynski was ruled safe because the ball was still in Escobar's bare hand.

"I saw him running to first base, and he's not a fast guy," Escobar said. "I thought I could tag him and not have to make a throw to first base. But he was quicker than I thought."

One RBI infield single by Crede later, the White Sox were up 4-3 and on their way.

Where do the Angels go from here? It's safe to say that a lot of franchises are in worse shape. The Angels have won 90-plus games three times in the past four years, and Moreno has shown he's willing to spend money to upgrade.

Bartolo Colon, John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Ervin Santana give Los Angeles a solid front four in the rotation. While Paul Byrd and Washburn are both free agents, Byrd stands a much better chance of returning to Anaheim. He's expressed a willingness to sign a one-year deal, while Washburn, a Scott Boras client, is ready to play the market.

"We'll see what happens," Washburn said. "I've always said I want to be an Angel for life, but it doesn't look like that's probably going to happen."

Catcher Bengie Molina is the team's other big free agent, and prospect Jeff Mathis could be ready to replace him. The Angels also have Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson and a slew of prospects at lower levels with names like Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood. They'll be appearing soon in a Baseball America Prospect Handbook near you.

Finally, the Angels' biggest offseason target could be a guy who just ripped out their heart. White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko played for Angels manager Mike Scioscia as a prospect in the Dodgers' chain several years ago, and a reunion might be in the offing.

Angels general manager Bill Stoneman, true to character, wasn't very effusive about his plans Sunday night. "We're obviously going to be looking for a bat, and everybody is always looking for pitching," Stoneman said. "It's the typical stuff -- a bat and some pitching."

Stoneman, an old-school ball guy at heart, reacted to the ALCS loss with the same stoic mindset as his players. If he had complaints about the umpiring, he wasn't going to air them publicly. And he certainly wasn't going to blame residual fatigue from the Yankees' series.

Just moments after Kotchman grounded out to end the Angels' season, Stoneman went from locker-to-locker with a personal message for each Los Angeles player.

"I told them, 'Have a good winter, shake this thing off, and we'll come back stronger next year,'" Stoneman said.

The season is over, and it's time for the Angels to put on their White Sox hats and root for Chicago. Pierzynski included.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" has been published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.