ANAHEIM -- When the best hitter on the team broke his leg celebrating a game-winning grand slam, perhaps the Angels should have suspected this was not going to be their year. They lost Kendry Morales for the season due to that ill-fated mosh-pit on May 29, eventually fell seven games behind Texas in the American League West, but still refused to believe what the standings were telling them. On Sunday, they traded for Arizona starting pitcher Dan Haren, one of the gems of the deadline, and sent him to the mound Monday night, after he had been in town fewer than 24 hours.
No one talks about curses in Anaheim anymore, not after a World Series championship in 2002 and division titles in five of the past six years, but the Angels might have been tempting fate. With two outs in the top of fifth inning on Monday, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis sent a line drive up the middle, and the sound of the ball smacking Haren's right forearm was drowned out by a sickened groan that echoed through Angel Stadium. First Morales, now Haren, another shining moment muted.
Haren immediately looked skyward, attempting to locate the ball, then down at his right arm. He took off his glove and sunk into a crouch, infielders circling him, manager Mike Scioscia rushing over and placing a hand on his right shoulder. Haren was able to clench a fist, but did not even try to throw a warm-up pitch, and barely raised his glove to acknowledge the standing ovation he received on the way to the dugout. He was diagnosed with a contusion in his right forearm and will be re-evaluated Tuesday, but without him the Angels lost yet again to the Red Sox and dropped further behind Texas.
Haren stood at his locker after the game, forearm in a bandage, and said he expects to make his next start. He said the ball hit the meat of his forearm, not the bone, and doctors told him he was lucky. Forgive the Angels if they were not sharing his optimism. "We trade for this guy, are excited about it, and 'Bam,'" said center fielder Torii Hunter. "That's the way it's going for us." They traded for Scott Kazmir in the middle of last season and he is injured. They signed Hideki Matsui over the winter and he has not delivered. Now they have Haren and at the very least his arm is really sore.
The Angels tracked him all year, starting negotiations with the Diamondbacks when Josh Byrnes was still their general manager. The Angels convinced themselves that the 23 home runs Haren allowed this season were due to the hitter-friendly conditions at Chase Field, that the 4.60 ERA he piled up could be reduced if he stopped throwing so many strikes. That's how smitten the Angels were with Haren: they felt his biggest liability was that he threw too many strikes. "Which can be a quick fix," Scioscia said.
The Angels traded starting pitcher Joe Saunders and two minor leaguers for Haren, just three days after they traded pitcher Sean O'Sullivan and a minor leaguer to Kansas City for third baseman Alberto Callaspo. An organization that traditionally loathes trading prospects was suddenly eager. This time of year demands that clubs define themselves: In or out, buyer or seller, gunning for the fall or planning for the spring. Call them defiant or delusional, but the Angels decided they were contenders, odds be damned. "We're firmly in this thing," Angels' general manager Tony Reagins said before Monday's game.
Haren would fill the spot in the rotation vacated last winter by John Lackey, form a premier 1-2 combination with Jered Weaver and allow the Angels to match the move made by Texas for Cliff Lee. Best of all, they would control Haren's rights for two years. Reagins was universally praised for the deal. In 4 2/3 innings Monday, Haren gave up two runs and registered eight strikeouts, showing just enough promise. After sputtering all season, the Angels finally appeared capable of a surge. Then Youkilis sent his screamer back through the box and the Angels were right where they started, a brittle pitching staff ranked 23rd in ERA that cannot compensate for a short-handed offense ranked 20th in batting average.
It was fitting that the Angels were facing the Red Sox, their October bedfellows. In each of the past three years the Angels and Red Sox have met in the first round of the playoffs. In seven of the past eight years either the Angels or the Red Sox have been in the post-season. Usually, these are the teams that have a beat on the penance race; now they are just trying to hang around the fringes.
The Red Sox are eight games back in the American League East, five out of the wild card, as they send Lackey to his old mound for the first time Tuesday. Like the Angels, the Red Sox are stuck in the no-man's land between contention and irrelevance. Judging by their place in the standings, they do not look like full-fledged buyers. Judging by their track record, however, they are not sellers either. They will have to define themselves, too, in the next few days.
The line drive off Haren is a well-timed reminder to teams like these: The deadline offers plenty of opportunities, with few guarantees.