Angels still believe, but is it enough?
Dramatic win over Rangers has them feeling better, but they'll need more than faith
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The loudest moments in this series came Thursday night. Ex-Angel Mike Napoli swung hard at a high Jered Weaver fastball and smacked a majestic home run, landing what looked like the coup de grace to the 2011 Los Angeles Angels.
But Mark Trumbo parried the blow with a vicious crack two innings later, his walk-off two-run shot giving the Angels a 2-1 win over the Texas Rangers and, perhaps, redeeming the belief that the AL West remains at large.
For all that noise, though, the biggest moment in this series may have been one of the quietest, just a little snapping sound that the Angels may be hearing for a while. It came the night before. Ervin Santana was battling like crazy and he nearly escaped a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the eighth inning. He broke off a nasty two-strike slider to Ian Kinsler.
"He stuck his butt out, he almost fell down and swung, hit the ball off the end of the bat and it went right over [Erick] Aybar," Torii Hunter said. "When a team is hot, you can't beat them."
When a team is better than you, you can't catch it. Or, at least, you don't figure to catch it when you're trailing by six games and have only 36 left, six against that team.
What Trumbo did Thursday said more about 2012, and beyond, than it did 2011, judging by what happened during the rest of this four-game series. Unlike in previous seasons, the Angels have young talent and not all of it is on the cusp. Some of it is here.
Rangers manager Ron Washington spent part of his pregame media chat talking about how good the Angels' rookie first baseman is. He brought Trumbo up without prompting, apparently so impressed by Trumbo's opposite-field single off Neftali Feliz in Wednesday's game.
Trumbo is the first Angels rookie to hit a pair of walk-off home runs in a season.
But make no mistake: The Rangers were the ones sending the message about the here and now this week. Texas saw two rookie pitchers in the first games and dispatched them, as you would expect a better team to do. They saw two dominant Angels pitchers in the next two games and sent both off the mound trailing, as a better team sometimes will do.
Until Trumbo's swing, the Angels looked as though they would exit their biggest series in two years with barely a whimper. So, in the clubhouse following Thursday's game, the mood wasn't nearly as euphoric as you would expect it to be after such a dramatic finish.
"I hope we talk about this game in November," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I hope we talk about this as a swing game."
Said Weaver: "What is it, six games now instead of eight? It definitely helps out. Obviously, this is not the way we wanted the series to go. ... You never know, man."
In comments before the game, Hunter refused to admit this season was over, or even close to being over.
Realize, though, that this is a proud 36-year-old player who might play his entire career without reaching a World Series. If anyone's going to cling to hope until it slithers out of his hands, it's Hunter.
"I've been there 1,000 times. When you're out of it, you kind of know it," Hunter said. "I'm pretty sure we were like eight games out in September when I was with the Twins. In the 162nd game, we clinched the division."
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Take heart, Angels fans. Witness the 2006 Minnesota Twins, eight games back on Aug. 22, only to storm back, win it in a one-game playoff over the Detroit Tigers and get swept in the AL Division Series by the New York Yankees.
Just don't take the comparison too far. That Tigers team had Craig Monroe as its leading slugger and its two best pitchers were 41-year-old Kenny Rogers and 23-year-old Justin Verlander. This Rangers team is October-tested and, since the trade deadline, deep in both hitting and pitching. They generally pounded the Angels in this series without one of their best players, Adrian Beltre, who figures to come back soon.
"Trust me, I'm not happy to be trailing, but I know we still have a chance," Hunter said. "People that are saying [we don't] couldn't have played sports, they couldn't have."
In other words, the Angels' competitive juices haven't left them yet. But to track down a team like Texas, they might need more than hope and faith.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.