The Angels, as ragged and battered as an MLB team can be in mid-August, are still in the American League Wild Card chase; if you’re a rabid Halos fan, I’m sure you’ve had this piece of information pop up in your head a dozen or so times per day in the last week, you know I’m right. With a little slip up last weekend, our heroes got right back on track with a gutsy series win against Baltimore, giving them a much-needed shot of adrenaline and momentum.
That’s important, because that’s the type of series that will put teams’ heads where they need to be; sure, they had fun on the flight to Seattle, where their AL West rival (and Wild Card spot competition) awaited, but on game day, that in-the-zone mentality, cultivated in the Baltimore series, completely took over. This was, to date, the most important series of the season, and they needed to be in that calm, measured, but utterly deadly, state of mind. They needed to be Ghost Dog, basically.
Tonight, the Angels were basically Ghost Dog, and they murked the Mariners in their own home, in entertaining fashion, like they were past-their-prime mafiosi.
The Angels didn’t have an easy task, taking on 2nd place Seattle in Safeco, in a heated-up Wild Card race, and having to face a guy like James Paxton in the series opener, to boot. That doesn’t mean the Angels cowered and quaked, nope; instead, they trotted out an exciting arm of their own, a dude named Tyler Skaggs and he was on point. Watching Tyler Skaggs dealing in an important game this year is nice, but seeing him do so well was totally awesome.
Swaggy (hey, blame Players Weekend), finished with 6.1 IP/ 5 H/ 0 R/ 0 ER, showing us flashes of the dominance that we’ve seen...well...a long time ago, or so it always seems with Swaggy. The rust and nerves from last Saturday, in Skaggs’ first start back from the DL, was nowhere to be seen tonight, as Skaggs was out-dueling Paxton at every turn. After the first five innings, he had only given up four hits, and two walks, and the Halos’ mighty lumber had provided him with a 3-0 cushion on the scoreboard.
Skaggs wasn’t completely obliterating the Mariners, by any means, but he still put up a sick start, and it’s quite alright by me that a large portion of Skaggs’ success tonight had to do with lots of staunch, stingy Halos defense. You had three double plays total from the good guys, a nice catch by Mike Trout (natch), the usual Andrelton Simmons jaw-dropping plays and a cool snag from Kaleb Cowart at third. Good starting pitching is good, but great defense behind good starting pitching is greatest.
As for the offense and those three runs, they came in a powerful, if peculiar, way tonight, but only because of who was pitching. They had one run on the board in the second, when C.J. Cron continued his hot streak and mashed a solo blizzy. The other two runs would be courtesy of surprise AL WAR big dog Andrelton Simmons, who knocked a two-run home run in the fourth (his 12th of the year, and the first Angels SS to hit 12 HRs in a season since Dick Schofield did it in 1986).
Here’s why it was peculiar: Paxton hadn’t given up a homer since July 2nd, and he’d only given up FIVE all season. The Halos hit TWO homers off of him. That’s pretty dope. That’s Ghost Dog style, too, for sure.
So, the Angels, with a 3-0 lead, and Skaggs having given up a double with one down in the seventh, caused Mike Scioscia to shrink up a bit and play it safe, but as usual, he pretty much overthought things...or under-thought, however you want to look at it. However you slice it, he took out Skaggs with 84 pitches and one down, and that decision nearly bit Scioscia in the rear. Luckily, Blake Parker remained Blake Parker and saved the inning and preserved the 3-0 lead.
Parker was tasked with getting those two outs in the seventh, and then he was lifted in the eighth, when Scioscia placed Bud Norris in the game. That’s when things got BLEAK & FRUSTRATING AF. Norris got a K right off the top of the frame, but then his night began to go south. Jean Segura hit a solo shot off of him, making it 3-1 Halos, but then, after getting the second out of the inning, Norris then gave up a double to Robinson Cano. There were two down, but Norris had already given up a dinger and a double, and Nelson Cruz was up to the plate. Oh no.
Norris did it. He served up a 90 MPH cutter that Cruz crushed to center field, igniting the Safeco crowd, tying the game up 3-3, and making me want to go mental on my living room furniture. The worst case scenario had happened, a great game from Skaggs all but erased, the dope dingrz from earlier would also be forgotten and/or all for naught.
Unless the Team of Destiny decided to do something about it, and boy, did they.
In the top of the ninth, the Halos went the way of the samurai, while the Mariners made their own mistakes and dug their own graves. Cliff Pennington walked. Kole Calhoun walked. Cameron Maybin walked. In between some of those ABs, there were some ground balls and bunts that would put two Angels outs on the board.
There it was, it was about to happen, we all knew it.
Bases loaded, ninth inning, two outs, tie game...Mike Trout up to the plate. Trout, in his uncanny flair for the dramatic, delivered yet another storybook ending, just like he’s done so many times in the past. He drove a hard liner down the left field foul line, a perfectly hit double that completely cleared all the bases and gave the Angels a commanding 6-3 advantage.
He’d done it. That’s an MVP, I don’t know what else to say about Mike Trout and this game. He’s unreal. He’s a joke. With an extremely crucial game in the balance, Trout had the opportunity to be Mr. Clutch and Mr. Hero, and you just know he reveled in that, and wanted to deliver the coup de grace to Seattle more than anybody else. The dude single-handedly brought the Halos within one game of a Wild Card spot, and this team just keeps rolling.
Wow. From the heights and then down into the depths and then back up into the stratosphere, until we’re sailing smooth on a wave of amazing Angels emotions. All thanks to Mike Trout, Tyler Skaggs, C.J. Cron, Andrelton Simmons and this insane Halos team. These guys are not to be slept on, this team is for real.