ARLINGTON, Texas -- A lingering image from the Los Angeles Angels' biggest series of the year was the Texas Rangers'Josh Hamilton, with the body of a linebacker and the grace of a center fielder, diving for balls all over the grass. Some he caught, some he didn't. None of them would have been in hailing distance of Angels outfielders.
It was shortstop Elvis Andrus diving in the hole, scrambling to his feet and throwing out runners. It was Neftali Feliz's darting fastball, torturing Angels hitters and slamming doors. It was the torque in Michael Young's body, launching hit after hit.
It also was Bobby Abreu lumbering after balls in the gap, while Juan Rivera jogged after them. It was Howie Kendrick, making his first start at first base in four years, trying to scoop a ball in the dirt and missing badly, ushering in two crucial runs.
The Angels lost 6-4 Sunday night to put a soggy bow on a hot, miserable four-day weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The images they took away were indelible.
One thing the Angels took home: frustration. If they'd gotten a few more breaks or made a few more plays, then they easily could have taken three of four games against the Rangers. Instead, they're barely grasping at contention, seven games back.
When a radio reporter dared ask manager Mike Scioscia to sum up the importance of these games, Scioscia snapped, "We lost tonight. We lost tonight. We've got to play better baseball and we're going to look forward to tomorrow and playing better baseball, no sense looking back."
But there was no hiding what they saw here. They got a look at a team that is younger, more dynamic and, apparently, just plain better. The Angels aren't being pushed just for the rest of this season. It looks like they'll be pushed for years to come. They were practically forced to respond and the front office moved, completing two trades in a matter of four days while the team was losing three of four to sink seven games out of first.
Haren and infielder Alberto Callaspo probably won't be enough to push the Angels past these Rangers in the next two months, but the Angels will have them for a couple more years, at least. Those trades had at least as much to do with 2011 and beyond as they did with today.
But this past weekend also had ramifications for years to come. Judging by the big crowds that showed for these games, the Rangers are building some long-term momentum. Even the start of Cowboys training camp couldn't steal the spotlight. Former President George W. Bush sat in the front row next to the Rangers dugout wearing a green T-shirt.
It's not as if the Angels aren't working hard to stay on top, and we're not just talking about the front office. At about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir and Joel Pineiro were running on the sidewalk that surrounds the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, weaving through groups of fans arriving early to buy tickets. The temperature at the time was about 97 degrees.
"Ain't nobody in here quitting. Ain't nobody in the front office quitting," catcher Jeff Mathis said.
"They're trying to do all they can to put something together, give us a little fire. It makes you feel good, but we've got to do it out there on the field, too."
There's only so much that effort can accomplish.
Two of the four games here were decided by one run. One was decided by two. In close games, each play tends to be more closely scrutinized -- and the Rangers played better defense all weekend.
Case in point: Michael Young's first-inning infield single. Second baseman Maicer Izturis unnecessarily rushed a throw and Kendrick was late covering first and failed to make a backhanded scoop.
"There were a couple breakdowns there," Scioscia said.
Meanwhile, Andrus dove deep in the hole to rob Kendrick of a hit. The Rangers stole bushels of hits in the previous three games.
"They played really well in the field. They sure did," Mathis said. "Tip your hat to them. They played great defense and pitched well, too."
Quote of the day
"I was born and raised 20 minutes from there and I still have lot of family there. My wife is from the same city, so her family is there. At this point in my career, being on the West Coast has a lot of value for me. Being near family and being on a ball club that's dedicated to winning, not just this year but for a lot of years, I'm very excited for the opportunity." – newly acquired pitcher Dan Haren, who is from Monterey Park, Calif.
It wasn't supposed to be this way for the Angels and the Boston Red Sox, who meet for three games starting Monday. The two perennial contenders are clinging to their respective races, with Boston eight games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East and five behind Tampa Bay for the wild card.
The Angels have their choice of starters Monday, with newly acquired Dan Haren and Joel Pineiro (10-7, 4.18 ERA) both on turn to pitch. The likely starter is Haren, which would give the Angels' other starters an extra day of rest.
The Angels have to face Clay Buchholz (10-5, 2.81), an All-Star who is one of several Red Sox returning from injuries.