TORONTO - The Los Angeles Angels were down to their last at-bat, losing 1-0 at home to the Texas Rangers and about to be swept in a four-game series to fall eight games out of first place in the American League West.
This was a week ago Thursday and the Angels’ outlook was grim. Then Mike Adams, a reliable Rangers’ reliever, threw five pitches that may have changed the Angels’ season. Torii Hunter looked at a ball then singled. Rookie Mark Trumbo looked at a ball, then fouled off a pitch before he lashed his then 23rd homer for a walkoff 2-1 win.
Instead of eight games behind, the Angels were six. In the intervening eight days, they whittled that lead from six down to two as they went into Arlington for this weekend’s three-game showdown.
As the Angels and Rangers battle this weekend, and probably down the stretch, perhaps even needing the series scheduled in Anaheim on the last weekend of the season to decide the AL West, there will be a lot of interested observers, especially the two big dogs — the Yankees and Red Sox — from the AL East.
Neither New York nor Boston can be certain who will have to play the AL West winner in the opening round of the playoffs, but the Angels pose a frightening prospect for any team in a short series with their three-headed pitching monster of Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren.
The Rangers may be the defending American League champions, and a formidable opponent, but their pitching has been flat to the point that even team president Nolan Ryan has expressed his concern.
“They’re just not sharp,” said Ryan. “They looked fatigued. These are the dog days, and this is when you have to push yourself.”
A year ago, the Rangers had Cliff Lee to anchor the rotation. Right now, they are relying on C.J. Wilson as their staff ace, ahead of Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando.
The Rangers went into this series on Friday losers of six of their last seven and had been blown out by six runs or more in four of them.
The Angels see opportunity this weekend and that’s why Santana and Weaver are being asked to pitch on three days’ rest Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Neither pitcher has ever gone to the mound on short rest before.
“If you’re going to a four-man rotation or using guys on short rest three or four times through the rotation, some guys might unravel if they’re not used to it,” L.A. manager Mike Scioscia said. “But this would be a one-time deal, so these guys should be fine.”
In the big picture, the AL East champion, whether it’s New York or Boston is likely to face Detroit in the opening round and that’s no picnic, with the prospect of seeing Justin Verlander, the probable Cy Young winner, twice in a short series. Ironically, of the three possible opponents — Detroit, Texas or Los Angeles — the Rangers may be the most vulnerable if they are able to hold off the Angels.
Mike Flanagan was baseball’s undisputed king of the one-liner. At any moment, he was capable of coming up with something like ...
“I could never live in New York. The first time I came into a game there, I got into the bullpen car and they told me to lock the door.”
Or, maybe ...
“You know you’re having a bad day when the fifth inning rolls around and they drag the warning track.”
Hope the Cleveland Indians enjoyed their off-day Thursday because they’re going to be a bit busy from now until the end of the season. Starting with Friday night’s game at home against the K.C. Royals, the Indians will play 35 games in the final 34 days of the season. In that span they have doubleheaders on Sept. 20 and 24 and they get one day off on Sept. 12 ... The Mets don’t win more games because they are “cry-babies,” according to former big-leaguer and Blue Jay coach Gary Matthews, currently a broadcaster for the Phillies. “Tell them Sarge said it — the Mets are crybabies,” Matthews said “That’s why they lose.” ... Vernon Wells and Alex Rios are being paid a total of $35 million this year by the Angels and White Sox, respectively. They have a combined batting average of .212 (174-for-826) and both have been benched at times. Wells has an OPS of .616. Rios is at .572. Whenever you furrow your brow about the direction of the Blue Jays today, think of them.