#42 - KELVIM ESCOBAR - P
After acquiring the team for $183 million midway thru the 2003 season, Arte Moreno spent over $140 Million on four free agents - Jose Guillen, Bartolo Colon, Vladimir Guerrero and Kelvim Escobar. Guillen would turn inot a big drama but yield two longtime contributors in a trade in the next offseason. Colon won a Cy Young but basically gave the team a year and a half of greatness on his four year deal. Vlad would win the MVP and give the Angels six great seasons that climaxed with a playoff series win over hated nemesis Boston.
Kelvim Escobar would deliver more value for his $45 Million six year contract than anyone initially imagined, and yet Angels fans suffered through a slew of injuries, false starts and disappointments - we hardly got used to his greatness before it was perpetually denied us. But when he was great, he was consistently great, even if his team never scored him enough runs.
Of his six seasons under contract for the Angels he pitched fully in three. In another, 2005, he appeared in sixteen games, nine of them in relief. After skipping all of 2008 with a shoulder injury, he pitched in one game in 2009. He never pitched after that. But in 2004, '06 and '07 he was a co-ace with whoever else contended for the title on the Halo pitching staff.
His secret was a ridiculously high strikeout rate (7.74 per 9 IP, fourth best among Angels pitchers) - with six pitches to choose from he usually set up betters with a four seam fastball and finished them off with a dying sinker that delivered embarrassing swings that would call into question the "professional" in the title of "professional hitter". His 2.6 K/BB ratio ranks eighth best in club history and his low 0.725 HR/9 IP is tied with Don Aase for tenth best. For Angels pitchers with a minimum of 500 Innings Pitched his ERA+ of 125 ranks fifth best all time.
His solid 2006 season and pitching out of his head on the 2004 and 2007 division winners all take second stage to his participation in the infamous Doug Eddings Game. Kelvim had pitched brilliantly in relief int eh ALDS against the Yankees, allowing one run in seven IP over four games and was Scioscia's go-to seventh inning man. Because of rain delays in the ALDS the team had lost a Sunday game in New York, won a Monday game in Anaheim to eliminate the Yankees and then flew to Chicago for a Tuesday night game which they won. But the starting pitching was in tatters and the relief arms had all put in double duty. On Wednesday, October 12 Escobar came in to pitch a scoreless seventh and eighth. Back on the mound of a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the ninth he got two quick outs.
Then he struck out A.J. Pierzynski, but it didn't en the inning. Pierzynski ran to first as if the ball had hit the dirt. A strikeout must be completed with a tag of the runner if first base is unoccupied and catcher Josh Paul casually strode toward the dugout. Umpire Doug Eddings was decoyed completely by PIerzynski as he called the third strike as he had called every strikeout prior to that, but the ruse worked, something about the body language of the batter convinced Eddings, there was no tag, no throw, Pablo Ozuna pinch ran for A.J., Escobar was rattled, Ozuna stole 2B and Joe Crede doubled him home for a 2-1 White Sox win. The White Sox then swept three straight in Anaheim and a fine 2005 season would forever have a tarnish to it.
But they call it "The Doug Eddings Game" and not "The Kelvim Escobar Game" because everyone knows Kelvim did his best, as he usually did when healthy with the Angels. He compiled 14.3 Wins Above Replacement (fourteenth best by an Angels pitcher) in 658 IP with a Halo smack dab in the middle of the team's golden decade.