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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

THE HALOSPHERE EXPANDS; AND, JUST LIKE OLD TIMES
A gentleman named Paul Cunningham has started a new Angels blog. So far he's mixing series recaps with looks back at previous Angel squads, beginning with the inagural 1961 team. So check it out, and welcome to the Halosphere, Paul!

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Speaking of looks back, last night's game was a wonderful retread of the 2002 Collection. We looked absolutely hapless at the bat for seven innings (no surprise there), but Adam Kennedy got things going with a walk, and the Rally Monkey was back in business. The big hit, of course, came from Mike Napoli, who in 130 plate appearances has done nothing to prove his doubters (a group that included me) right.

I don't think Rockies manager Clint Hurdle was one of those doubters, though he intentionally passed Garret Anderson to get to the Napoli Juggernaut. Hurdle's hands were tied; walking Garret gave him the platoon advantage and set up the double play, and I think in that situation you just have to grit your teeth and take your chances. Luckily for us, Hurdle got burned on this occasion.

John Lackey did his job by keeping us in the game, notching his third consecutive good start. He did frustrate me at times; with runners on first and second with one out in the second, Lackey started the number nine batter, Choo Freeman, with three straight slurves, each out of the strike zone. When his fastball missed on 3-0, Lackey had loaded the bases for no real reason.

I keep harping on this, but Lackey really needs to trust his fastball more often. His fastball is a plus pitch for him, and there are times when you just have to throw gas in the zone, because most of the time you're gonna get the guy out by doing that. Use the slurve as your out pitch and to throw a wrinkle or two into early counts. But Lackey fell behind here and unnecessarily loaded the bases, because he felt like getting cute and throwing a bunch of breaking pitches to a guy who's close to no threat at all.

What happened on the next pitch? Lackey threw a fastball to Jamey Carroll, who grounded into an inning-ending double play. Tough to figure, huh?

K-Rod looked great for two batters, awful for one, and somewhere in between for another. All said, however, he's really settled down into the K-Rod we know and trust (well, as much as we ever trusted him) this month. Last night represented the first earned run he'd allowed since June 4; in between then and last night, he had only allowed one unearned run in 8 2/3 innings, striking out 16 against only 3 walks and 4 hits.

Even the home run he allowed last night needs to be put into proper context; when Detroit was in town earlier this season and Troy Percival visited Steve and Rex in the booth, he spoke of how closers need to pitch to the situation: if you have a two-run lead, go ahead and challenge batters, as a solo home run isn't going to hurt you. I'm not sure I completely buy the logic -- whether or not you allow a solo shot or a walk, the next guy up is still the potential tying run -- but it remains that if you challenge a guy you'll still usually get him out (at least if you have the nasty stuff of our top relievers), whereas if you walk him you quite literally never get him out. You may remember Troy using this strategy in Game Two of the World Series, where he entered the ninth with a two-run lead, and faced Barry Bonds with the bases empty. Percy challenged him, Barry and his Violent Chems won the battle, but the Angels won the game, which is all that matters.

Comments:
On the positive side of the ledger, K-Rod threw plenty of fastballs last night (he too has often been guilty of not trusting this pitch) and he was consistently throwing it at 95 m.p.h., which is the K-Rod we all know and love.

Nice to see Lackey pick up that elusive victory. Over his past 10 starts, he'd compiled a 3.41 ERA I think, and had a 1-5 record to show for it. On a team with an average or better offense, he'd have probably gone 6-2 over that stretch. Lackey has become one of the best pitchers in the game, without much fanfare. This year, he's been the most unhittable starting pitcher in the AL.
 
Ah, I remeber that strategy well. The intentional solo homer. When Barry hit that ball I knew the Angels had the game. Good memories.
 
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