Coming into this season I predicted that the Angels would amount to 79 wins. No more, no less. Friday night I had the ironic privilege of being in attendance at the 79th victory of the 2011 season. The next night the team won number 80 and it looks like there will be a few more beyond that number, so there has to be credit given to someone.
Sure there are Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, the Aces. Of course there is Torii Hunter defying age and Howie Kendrick embodying consistency with the bat and the glove. But to look at where the Angels are right now, playing meaningful games as the Ides of September approaches, we have to look back into the past to consider who we were overlooking.
While obsessing over the stupid acquisition of overpriced has-been Vernon Wells and fretting about where Kendry(s) Morales would bat in the lineup when he returned in May, there were three pieces to the puzzle that look solid in hindsight but were afterthoughts before they were even pre-thoughts: Magic, Tumbomb and ShutDowns.
What is most interesting about these three UNSUNG HEROES is that each represents three distinct Angels regimes: Ervin is an echo of Disney, drafted in September of 2000 when his birth certificate read just 17. Trumbo was drafted in the middle round of Eddie Bane's first draft, on June 7, 2004 - the same day the Angels took Weav with their 12th pick. Downs was a free agent signing in December that Tony Reagins made in the tsunami of distress over the failure to acquire Carl Crawford.
•Scott Downs signed a lucrative contract in the offseason to shore up 2010's miserable bullpen. He has been the best setup man in baseball this season despite a few nagging tweaks that every jock in his 30s inevitably battles. He has yet to allow an earned run at home. Downs is one year to the day older than Robb Quinlan. In his rookie year, Scott was traded for Rondell White. He turned 35 just before the season began and is being paid $5 Million for this year and the next two, but his nickname "Shut" Downs has been well-earned. He has allowed 32 hits and 13 walks in 47 IP, has an ERA of 1.34 and an ERA+ of a mind-boggling 284.
•Mark Trumbo is five homers shy of Tim Salmon's rookie HR mark of 31 big flies with 15 games to play. Nobody called this. After proving everything he could possibly prove in the minors, it took a devastating injury to the Scott Boras Golden Boy Morales to cement Trumbo into the team's everyday 1B. While his On-Base Percentage is given more scrutiny from critics than any power hitter in baseball, the need for a big bat somewhere in a Mike Scioscia lineup has been the lamentation of every Angels fan since Troy Glaus left.
•Ervin Santana will be forever linked to 2011 in franchise lore for his July 27 no-hitter in Cleveland. He had made his major league debut there in 2005 and gave up a cycle of hits (single, double, triple homerun but not in that order) in his first inning pitched in the big leagues. While his career bets are all in his All Star 2008 season, the preseason shrugging of apathy from the fan faithful when his name was mentioned is an indicator of how far he has come. It is his improvement over back-to-back awful seasons that has made him one of the team's unsung heroes.
They beat my expectations and I hope they can embarrass me further. Who are they? Are they a second place overachieving conglomeration emblazoned with the number 50 on their caps and shoulders despite playing in season number 51; or are they heroically building a campaign to take the division in the final hours of the season? These 2011 Angels may have a lot of confusing inconsistencies, but when it comes to heroics, there have been plenty of unexpected surprises.