Saturday, July 08, 2006

John Lackey. Stud.

Slow talkin', slow windin', hard throwin' stud.

Three and a half years ago, he started the final march to the promised land, and for the next two years, we wondering what happened to that promise. Last year, he broke out, and this year, he's turning into the force that many of us believed he could be. Tonight was the second finest evening of his career. A virtuoso performance that few Angels hurlers have provided in the history of this franchise. Nolan had his no-nos. I'm sure some other dudes had some great perfomances before my time. Mike Witt had his Eric Miltonesque perfecto on the last day of the season. But this performance is the finest single game I've witnessed on television, even better than a few others that I've seen in person. Here's my list of the top four pitching perfomances that I can remember after about six beers in a couple hours (note, I'm not adjusting for game context, so Washburn's excellent effort in game 3 against the Twins in 2002 isn't on the list, for example):
  • John Lackey retires 27 straight A's after allowing a leadoff hit - July 7, 2006. Tonight's game was a tremendous performance. The Angels really needed a win to remain the race, and on the night that "all-star" Mark Beuhrle looked like crap against the Red Sox (I know, I was there), John Lackey showed Ozzie Guillen who really should have been on the team. In fact, it's making me want to get an all-star warm up jersey with Lackey's name and number just for the hell of it. He walked no one, he went to only two three ball counts all night long. He challenged hitters, and he flat out dominated. Absolutely brilliant.
  • Jason Dickson five hits the Boston Red Sox - April 3, 1997. I was at this game, seated three rows behind home plate in seats provided to us by a guy from Adhor Farms that did business with my dad. Dickson was awesome. He allowed no one past second base. He was a prospect at the time, and he wowed the home crowd in this one. No doubt I remember this because I was there, but every time a young Angel pitcher dominates with a shutout, I remember this game.
  • Ramon Ortiz outduels Pedro Martinez and wins 2-1 - August 8, 2000. I went to this game a night or two before leaving SoCal to head back to Champaign to begin my third year of law school. I remember the plethora of Red Sox fans in attendance. Think about it, if you're a Sox fan, and can only make it to one game, this was the game to go to. Pedro was on the mound. There was no way they could lose. But Tim Salmon drilled a solo shot over the left center field wall to lead off the second, and Garret Anderson provided a two out RBI single in the fourth, giving the Angels a 2-0 lead. Troy O'Leary was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth, but a blind umpire called him safe, and he later scored on two straight ground outs. It was one of only two hits he'd allow. I have a distinct memory of Carl Everett stepping to the plate before making the final out, grooming the dirt, stepping in, stepping out, taking his sweet time in an obvious attempt to ice the rookie. I remember thinking that if I were Ortiz, I would have drilled Everett in the back with my first pitch. But Ortiz settled for inducing the final out with a foul pop up. And thousands of pissed off Red Sox fans left the building.
  • Ervin Santana shuts out the White Sox in his second major league start - May 23, 2005. Only a kid with Ervin's poise could give up the cycle to the first four batter he faced in his major league career, then come back and flat out dominate the eventual world champs in his next start. He limited the Sox to five hits, only one for extra bases, and erased two of those hits on subsequent double plays. He seemed to always make the right pitch at the right time, and flashed the brilliance that we still see on occasion, and look forward to seeing in the future.
Tonight, John Lackey fulfilled the promise he showed in 2002. He followed a hugely disappointing loss with an incredibly important win. He showed that he's an ace.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Walks and homers

The Angels give up too many. Scot Shields is no longer elite.

Juan Rivera is not clutch.

Big Series, Bright Lights, Cool, Cool People

Turning the tables on Seattle's massacre in Anaheim last month, the Angels went up to the Pacific Northwest and took three straight from a team surprisingly ahead of them in the standings, and as such they find themselves only four games out of first as they head into a four game set with first place Oakland. Split and they're still four out. Take three and they're two out. A sweep, and they're tied. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. No one is going to win this division with fewer than 81 wins, so before getting caught up in how far out the Angels sit, their focus should be on getting to .500 for the first time in a long time.

On the bright side, the rotation is finally poised to become the force it was expected to be entering the season. Escobar, Colon, and Lackey each went deep into their most recent starts without allowing a run. Santana survived eight innings of a day game on the road to garner the win despite allowing six runs. And Jered Weaver picked up right where he left off, holding Seattle to one run over seven innings in his last start. Orlando Cabrera continues to ignite the offense, and Kendry Morales may be getting through his adjustment phase at the major league level. He's been on fire lately, nicely masking the mini-slump by Mike Napoli.

But danger lurks. These are scary times for Angels fans with an affinity for the farm system. The closer the Angels get, and the longer they hang around, the more likely they are to do something stupid, like trading Santana and/or top prospects for a rental like Carlos Lee, or a mental case like Alfonso Soriano. I'll lay it down right now. My untouchables for those two, or anyone resembling them include: Lackey, Santana, Weaver, Wood, and Kendrick. There are others I don't want to see moved, but I could live with a trade of Shield, Aybar, Saunders, Arredondo, or even Adenhart if it brought back a big bat in return. I'm leery of the names being tossed around, though. I've always liked Carlos Lee, but his breakout occured as he went to a hitters park. Soriano can hit, and I don't care so much about his strikeouts, but he's just never seemed like a really reliable producer to me.

Anyway, the temptation is going to be to rip out the youth to go for it now, which I think is extremely short sighted. Let's see how they do with this rotation for a few weeks. They may not need to make a deadline deal that forces them to give up the youngsters. Let's keep our fingers crossed.