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Monday, October 11, 2004

OFFSEASON SCHEDULE
We now enter the first offseason of the Chronicles Era. What happens now?

Honestly, I'm not sure what happens to a team-oriented baseball blog when that team's season is over. But I have a few things up my sleeve.

First of all, there will be exciting commentary on other postseason games! Of course, I don't have any right now, but the LCS should prove interesting ...

... I'll also go through every Angel on the roster, sum up their year and their future prospects. That will take awhile, I'll probably do a guy or two per day, with interruptions. That series will start soon.

And as I threatened quite some time ago, there should be a multi-volume series on Bobby Grich and the Hall of Fame. That won't be for a couple of months, most likely, but it will be there.

As for 2004, despite its disappointing but unsurprising ending, it was an exciting and rewarding season for the Lads. The push in the last week of the season to win first place was a total thrill, and watching Vlad take hold of the MVP discussion was an absolute marvel. (I also plan to discuss Vlad and the MVP this week, but I think he's won it, and deservedly so.) We got to see Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson begin what promise to be productive careers, and -- shockingly, unpredictably -- even got to see them play in the playoffs.

Legs Figgins continued an emergence hinted at last season, and Clutch DaVanon had a very solid year as well. Troy Glaus came back from a career-threatening injury to demonstrate the same power, plate discipline, and bat-flipping skills he had in the past.

Kelvim Escobar thrived in a consistent role, and Bartolo Colon finally got it together when it mattered. Francisco Rodriguez was lights-out, and combined with Bengie Molina on the defensive highlight of the year.

Speaking of:

THE TOP FIVE PLAYS OF THE 2004 ANGEL SEASON
5. Alfredo Amezaga hits a grand slam against Joe Blanton of Oakland to put the Angels up 8-0 -- October 1
Alfredo Amezaga, one of the most useless "hitters" in all the major leagues, came up with the bases loaded. I was watching the game at a bar with a friend, turned to him, and said "This at-bat is hopeless."

I still can't quite believe that Amezaga did what he did, or that his only two home runs this year were both with the bases loaded. But this play indicated to me that something was going on here, that there was just no way we could win the division when inexplicable phenomona like this were afoot.

4. Curtis Pride hits a two-out double against Texas, scoring Vlad to tie the game and send the game to extra innings -- September 29
The last week of the season. We had won two straight against Texas, nearly knocking them out while keeping pace with struggling Oakland. But we're down by one with two outs in the top of the ninth.

Vlad, on a tear to end all tears, rips a single. And up to bat comes Curtis Pride, a 35-year-old who began the season in an independent league. On the mound is Francisco Cordero, who would end the season with 49 saves and a 2.13 ERA.

Naturally enough, Pride bangs a pitch off the center field wall. Vlad stumbles in his unique way around to home, and it's on. The impossible includes one play less than we might have thought beforehand.

3. K-Rod and Bengie go Showtime -- September 5
I still can't quite believe what I saw. Bengie Molina never really saw it; his no-look toss to home was there just in time to beat the runner, and if that weren't amazing enough, Frankie's body block on Ronnie Belliard was something to behold.

Particularly striking is that Ronnie Belliard, of all people, hit the first home run of Frankie this year to beat the Angels a few months prior -- not only was it the first time Frankie allowed a homer this season, it was the first one Belliard hit. You think K-Rod didn't know that? It wasn't just business, it was personal.

This was Frankie saying "this run will score over my dead body," the kind of sentiment that leads to his cartoonishly good year and utter dominance over the league.

And, oh yeah, he's just barely old enough to drink.

2. Vlad ties Game 3 of the ALDS with a grand slam, and shuts up all of "Red Sox Nation" -- October 8
I'd assume you remember this one. What was shocking is how the home run created a vacuum -- no sound escaped Fenway for minutes.

The slam also represented everything Vlad brought to the team this year. He was the one there when someone was needed, which was never more clear than in the last week of the season and on this pitch.

And you know Vlad wanted Timlin. Vlad had lit up Timlin in his crazy 9-RBI game, hitting a three-run homer against him on the first pitch he threw in the game. Timlin had K'd Vlad in Game 2, and you just knew Vlad would not let that happen again. He prevented it with a vengeance, and his last at-bat of 2004 (he drew an intentional walk later in the game) could barely have been more ideally representative.

1. Jose Guillen is suspended -- September 26
On the whole, I'm not a big believer in the power of "team chemistry" -- I think it's much more of a result than a cause. But no truth is absolute, but there is no doubt in my mind that we would not have won the division had Guillen been active the last week.

There was something electric in the way the team played without him, something evocative of 2002. It's when the impossible became probable, when people like Curtis Pride and Alfredo Amezaga started getting big hits, when Vlad started hitting for three. Losing Guillen brought the team together like nothing else, and regardless of the ALDS (where we were overmatched to begin with) Scioscia and Stoneman gambled and won. It created a team even easier to root for, and one of which I'm proud to be a fan.

We fell short this time, but we'll be back.

Comments:
Amazingly, I was able to watch the K-Rod play as that was nationally televised, and I saw Vlad's home run (I had just gotten home and turned on the game ten minutes before). I also saw the game where they announced Guillen's suspension, as that was also nationally televised. I wish they would do that with more games, and with their success this year, they just might.
 
Screw team chemistry. It's not the chemistry that resulted from suspending Guillen that helped the Angels win the division. It was getting his sorry non-producing ass off the field for the last week. He was outhit by the replacement compared to his September "production".

And I would have found a place on that list for Vlad's nine RBIs.
 
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