Monday, October 26, 2009
THE FAIRY TALE ENDS
The will be no championship in Anahiem this year. The Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem lost the American League Championship to the New York Yankees in the sixth game in the first hour of this morning Eastern Daylight Time.
The Angels had won two of the three games played in California and nearly forced a seventh and deciding game in New York. Shortly after huge clock in the outfield struck midnight and while over 50,000 people in the stadium held their collective breath, Gary Matthews Jr., the son of a former major leaguer, took one last mighty swing.
"This was a special group," Mike Scioscia their manager said after it was over, "but they were the better team. " Mike reflected on a reporters question about the long season and said that he will not soon forget this group, what they had fought through this remarkable season full of injuries, losing streaks, and a tragedy most had never experienced in their young lives that was so much larger than the game these men play. They are gone now, this team that carried Nick Adenhart's memory and his jersey forward every day and wherever they went all year. Many will leave for other teams and more money, others will be traded, some will retire, and some will come back. As a group, as of today, it no longer exists and will never be together again.
Eight months ago, in Tempe Arizona, in the warm sun of late February, more than 100 men and boys came together in their odd three-quarter length pants. Scioscia's immediate task was to fashion a team of 25 of them that would stay together through the next eight months as a team and win. There were questions. There was not enough pitching.The remarkable first baseman from last year was gone. The wondrous right fielder with the improbable Russian and Latino name of Vladamir Guerrero, now older and more than a step slower still wanted to play everyday. The gentlemanly left fielder, Garret Anderson, the soul of the franchise in the view of many fans was gone, traded in his last years because he too was now more hitter than fielder. This is the way of baseball. The ebb and flow, the kids and the veterans, the greats, the nearly greats, and the never will be either one, who come to the valley every year. It is up to the Scioscia and the coaches on this team as it is on all the teams there and in Florida to sift through them and decide who stays an who goes and who plays and who sits. A team's complex mixture of chemistry, mental toughness.,and physical ability is an erector set that must be constructed in these busy early days of spring in the desert. It is done in the talented minds of the coaches, instructors, scouts, and ultimately the manager.
When they came away in late March, there were still troubling issues for Scioscia and his staff. There were questions that could only now be answered during the season in the sometimes grim grind of the 164 game schedule in six months before them. The pundits said that the Texas Rangers were good enough to beat this team and win the Division this year. The sardonic Scioscia, as highly respected a manager as there is in the league, gave the stock answer, "We'll see. That's why we play the games."
The bad things came early. Injury plagued the regulars, Scioscia struggled to find others to fill the holes and give them a chance to keep winning while the others healed. He found the answers in odd places. The rookie fist baseman did all he was asked to and more making last years loss of Mark Teixeria (ironically to the Yankees) seem less problematic. Young Erick Aybar became an outstanding shortstop. Pitchers who had been ordinary, became very good. John Lackey took the ball every fifth day and won or kept them in the game. He became the definition of what baseball calls a "stopper," a pitcher who does not let a two game losing streak become three. Then Nick Adenhart was lost to a tragedy so unlikely the team first spiraled and then made him their inspiration for the rest of the year. After his death the team lost a lot until reminded by Scioscia, in an emotional team meeting, that Nick would have expecteded more of them. They apparently agreed and won 23 of their next 30 games and kept going, with Nick's jersey with them always, even doused with champagne when they won the Western Division.Tori Hunter, the young, strong, and remarkable center fielder and team spokesman who had helped Nick acclimate to the major leagues, now made it his personal goal to win the World Series so that Nick's family would have a championship ring.
Yet on this chilled night in New York, eight months and 171 games after they began their quest, they came up short, because they met a team that was better, that had its own inspiration, chemistry, superb pitching, and better hitting to defeat them. There is no shame in that.
They were a special group with a special goal and tried as hard as their talent would allow to reach it. That they failed is not the point. That they tried, and came that close is what should make them proud. They had banished the Boston Red Sox in three straight games to get here. They came within two victories of doing with lesser talent but perhaps greater emotion, what they set out to do when they had gathered those many months before in the Valley of the Sun and were molded into this group that lived, laughed and cried together for the past eight months.
They are gone now. The locker where Nick Adenhart's uniform and baseball cleats resided these last 171 games is gone too. Next year, Mike Scioscia will find a new group waiting for him in Arizona. From them, some from this year, some from trades, some from free agent signings, and others from the minor leagues, he must put the right pieces in the right places once again. It will be a new group, with new talents and new chemistry. He and his staff will mold them, motivate them to overcome the shortcomings of this year and try again to somehow reach that which eluded this year's "special" group by so small a margin.
That's why they play the games.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
From"Casey at the Bat"--- by Ernest Thayer, June 3, 1888, The San Francisco Chronicle