The Angels, classy organization that they are, voted to give late pitcher Nick Adenhart a full postseason share, clubhouse sources confirmed. So Adenhart's former teammates are honoring the Adenharts with both their pay and their play.
No team should ever have to confront such a tragedy. Shortly after Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in April (the very same night he threw six shutout innings in his season debut), manager Mike Scioscia gathered the team for a secret meeting at Angels Stadium. And on Sunday, in the afterglow of the Angels' three-game Division Series sweep of the Red Sox, Angels star Torii Hunter recalled that confab. Hunter said, "Mike just told us to go out and play. And to go out and play for Nick Adenhart. He's looking down on us."
If so, perhaps he's tipping a cap to easily the best story left in the playoffs.
There's a lot to love about this bunch, such as ...
• The Angels are a tough lot. Beyond overcoming the death of their beloved and talented young teammate, they also overcame more mundane setbacks, such as the simultaneous injuries to starting pitchers John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, plus a slow start that had them well behind the upstart Rangers for months. Angels owner Arte Moreno said of his troops, "They never quit." They also had a bad draw in the playoffs, being rewarded for their 97-win season by having to play their decades-long postseason nemesis, the Red Sox. And that didn't distract or deter them, either.
• The Angels are serene. If they were feeling the burden of past playoff defeats to Boston, they didn't show it, sweeping the demons right out of Fenway Park with their rousing 7-6 come-from-behind Game 3 win. "This team is focused," GM Tony Reagins said. "The atmosphere among the players is much more relaxed. They have a calmness about them." The celebration was fairly sedate, considering the demons that had been excised. "We've got business to take care of," Hunter explained.
• They are a clutch bunch. They won Sunday's game by scoring five runs in the last two innings off Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon, one of the best closers in the game. "We're always pushing," Bobby Abreu said. "We're never surrendering. We're always trying to attack."
• They are patient. A quartet in their clubhouse had waited 23 years for this moment. Folks all over recalled that the Angels had lost 12 of their last 13 postseason games against the Red Sox, though few Angels people were around to see the first three of those defeats, back in 1986, encapsulated by Dave Henderson's game-tying Game 5 home run off Donnie Moore. Longtime public relations man Tim Mead said his glee was being felt "in a way you can't describe." Mead also said, "It goes back to 1986 for some of us." They did a head count, and it turned out to be just those four -- Mead, plus team doctor Lewis Yocum and trainers Ned Bergert and Rick Smith, who huddled together by the trainers room and celebrated the victory.
• They are a candid and realistic group. When asked about their LCS matchup Sunday evening, they invariably started talking about the Yankees. I mentioned to some that the other series wasn't quite over. "The Twins?" one Angel said. "They make too many mistakes." (They are right about that. Smarts don't always accompany toughness.)
• They don't take stuff for granted. The Angels don't consider themselves heavy favorites just because they've beaten the Yankees three straight times in the playoffs. "They are having a lot of fun with guys like CC [Sabathia] and [Nick] Swisher," Hunter said. "They're totally different. They used to be all business."
• They aren't revenge-minded. Though the Yankees signed both of the Angels' top free-agent targets (their own Mark Teixeira plus Sabathia) for more than they could offer (it's believed that the Angels bid around $260 million for the pair, about $81 million less than the Yankees), Reagins said, "It's business. We took a run at both, and it wasn't meant to be. We try to stick to our philosophy. If it makes sense, we're very aggressive." Aggressive is one thing, beating the Yankees at the marquee free-agent game, well, that shouldn't be tried at home.
• They are a homegrown group. Hunter was one marquee free-agent pickup who chose to go there rather than play at home in Texas, and so were Vladimir Guerrero,Abreu and Brian Fuentes. A few others came via judicious trades. But the vast majority of the team was drafted and developed by the Angels. "There are so many homegrown players. They all went through the bushes together," gushed owner Moreno. "We really have good people in the organization."
• They are classy from top to bottom. Moreno, consistently and fairly cited as one of the best owners in sports, is called "tough but fair" by his subordinates. And let's not forget this is the only owner whose first order of business was to lower the beer prices. (He also knows something about baseball.)
• They are a modest, discreet squad. None of their players would admit to voting a full share for Adenhart, which was first reported in the Orange County Register. But they did. And of course it's the right thing to do.
The Angels danced all over Jonathan Papelbon in Sunday's Game 3 win. And afterward Reagins said what everyone was thinking: "I was more confident against Papelbon than Daniel Bard." Bard, clocked at 97 on the Angels' slowish gun in Anaheim, broke Juan Rivera's bat for a ground-ball double play.
Meanwhile, Papelbon was tattooed, surrendering a two-run single to Rivera in the eighth and an RBI double to Abreu and a game-winning two-run single to Guerrero in the ninth. A lot of Angels observers agreed that the Red Sox did right by intentionally walking the hot and clutch Hunter to load the bases ahead of Guerrero, who's had postseason difficulties -- and that includes Hunter, who opined, "If I was the manager, I would have walked me, too. I was locked in. I'm talking trash, of course. But that's the natural thing to do, to create a force play at every base."
Perhaps, but that intentional walk may be a tipoff to how Papelbon was feeling, because the best closers always want to feel that they can get anyone out. Mariano Rivera once became uncharacteristically irate when he was ordered to issue even one intentional walk. Another tipoff that Papelbon might not be right may have been an unintentional walk to slumping (no hits this series) non-power threat Chone Figgins.
Papelbon said his problem was a lack of location. But Papelbon was also throwing straight fastballs at 95/96 mph and practically no splitters (he threw one early in the count to Abreu). As one longtime Red Sox expert observed, perhaps there would have been more variety if Jason Varitek had been catching him instead of Victor Martinez. Of course, we'll never know the answer there.
Abreu was shocked at his lack of market last offseason, but he should do better this time, especially with Scioscia calling him the team MVP (he would have been the ALDS MVP, too, if they gave those out) and others crediting him for making leadoff man Figgins much more patient. Figgins is going to make a lot of money as a free agent, thanks to his newfound patience. But it remains to be seen what Abreu's market value will be (it should be high).
The Angels opened contract talks, but the sides are thought to be far apart at this point.
Abreu had to take a salary cut from $16 million with the Yankees to $5 million when the market mistreated him last winter following his usual solid offensive season. He'd surely like to make something closer to his old salary, while some teams may try to get him with only a modest raise.
The Angels have been a nice team for him. There isn't a lot of harping about his reluctance to crash into outfield walls there, as there was in New York (in the long run, it's smart, as it has enabled him to play 150-plus games every year). And there's still appreciation for his offensive exploits. "Of course I want to come back and play with the Angels," Abreu said. "I'm enjoying it. I want to be in this situation. This is the team that gave me the opportunity."
• The Brewers will try to sign star Prince Fielder to a long-term contract this winter. If those talks don't go well, it's possible they could consider trading him. However, it will probably be difficult to get fair value for him in a year when the ridiculously cost-efficient Adrian Gonzalez (who has two years left at $9 million) also is expected to hit the trade market.
• Pitching guru Rick Peterson, who's close to Brewers coach Willie Randolph from their Mets days (they were fired the same day), was interviewed in New Jersey by Brewers GM Doug Melvin, reported Nick Cafardo in the Boston Globe. Ken Macha is returning as manager, but Randolph could be a candidate in the future.
• There are rumors that the Astros might try to hire the vaunted tandem of Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan (those rumors were even mentioned here once). However, Cardinals insiders say La Russa does love the history of the Cardinals and presumably isn't quite as upset as Duncan about the whole Chris Duncan situation. In a phone interview a couple weeks ago, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt expressed some optimism that La Russa would be back. Jim Fregosi, Tim Bogar and Manny Acta have been cited as favorites for the Astros job.
• The Chicago Tribune is the latest to speculate that Reds GM Walt Jocketty might try to lure his friend La Russa to Cincinnati, which does make sense. But to do that, they'd have to pay off Dusty Baker's $3 million-plus salary, which seems like something of a long shot.
• Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer appears to be the favorite to replace Kevin Towers in San Diego. Jeff Moorad said in a recent phone interview that he'd like to have someone in place soon.
• Angels GM Tony Reagins may have the busiest winter of anyone, with Abreu, Lackey, Figgins and Guerrero as free agents.
• Billy Wagner performed well in Boston as an expensive rent-a-player and has said he has designs on closing elsewhere. But the closing market won't necessarily be to his liking. The Cubs could be one of the few big-market teams looking at closers, as could the Braves and his old Astros. He wouldn't discuss his future after his latest postseason disappointment. The Red Sox have retained the right to offer him arbitration, and have every expectation that he'll turn it down, since they have Papelbon (and Bard) to close, and Wagner relishes closing and wants to improve his career save totals for Hall of Fame consideration (he's currently sixth all time with 385).
• If there's a Freeway World Series in L.A., Scioscia will be a rare manager to have a shorter commute from his house to the away games. The ex-Dodgers catcher didn't want to delve into all the possible storylines with a round to go, but he drives 75 miles daily from Thousand Oaks to Anaheim and would have to drive only around 40 to Dodger Stadium. (During the 2000 Subway Series, Joe Torre's commute to Shea Stadium was longer, as he lived in Westchester County.)
• The NL West doesn't get the respect it deserves. The Dodgers' three-game sweep of St. Louis makes it three straight years that the NL West has swept the Central in the Division Series. There is a belief that there's a paucity of publicity because of the time difference. Hunter said simply, "The West is the best."
• Forget all the other blown calls, has anyone else noticed that the umpires are wrong way too often on ball-strike calls? The strike-zone graphic illuminates the issues. Often, six inches outside is a strike, while the lowest couple inches of the strike zone is a ball. But please, no extra replay, and no robots making calls.