Commentary

Angels show off something extra

The Halos should rely on power, but won the long first interleague opener NL-style

Updated: April 2, 2013, 12:11 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

CINCINNATI -- Opening Day is so special, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim apparently didn't want it to end.

So on and on they played Monday in Cincinnati. Past sunset. Past dinner time. Past "How I Met Your Mother." For 13 grueling innings. For 4 hours and 45 nail-gnawing minutes.

They struck out 17 times. And won. They made three errors. And won. They scraped together just six hits -- which comes to one every 47 minutes and 30 seconds. And won. Try pulling that off on your "MLB 13: The Show" sometime. We dare you.

[+] EnlargeErnesto Frieri
Frank Victores/USA TODAY SportsErnesto Frieri and Chris Iannetta were still standing when it came time to celebrate the Angels' 13-inning win.

But now here's the important part of the Angels' marathon, believe-it-or-not, 3-1 win over those local heroes, the Cincinnati Reds: Wasn't this exactly the kind of game the outside world thinks the Angels AREN'T constructed to win?

They're built to out-mash the teams they're playing, not out-pitch them. Right?

They're built to outscore the teams they're playing, not outlast them. Right?

They're built to win classic, American League-style, crooked-number baseball games, not low-octane, 13-inning, clear-the-bench, manage-up-a-storm games played under National League rules -- on Opening Day yet. Right?

OK, that IS right, actually. But maybe the moral of the Angels' long Opening Day journey into the Cincinnati night is this: They might be built to do both.

"You have to win games, 3-1, and you have to win games, 10-9," said pitcher C.J. Wilson. "You're not going to win every game the same way. That's not how it works."

And maybe that's not how this team is going to work. Not if it's going to be any good, at least.

"I don't think we're a one-dimensional team by any means," said catcher Chris Iannetta, who accounted for all three runs the Angels scored Monday with a third-inning homer and a game-winning, two-out, two-run, 13th-inning single almost four hours later. "I think we're a really good baseball team. . . . I think we can win any type of game."

Nevertheless, we have every reason to look at this lineup -- with Mike Trout at the top and Josh Hamilton in the cleanup hole and some guy named Albert Pujols crammed in between -- and wonder where it might rank among the most star-studded orders of recent times.

We also have every reason to look at this rotation -- with a whole lot of question marks lined up behind Jered Weaver and Wilson -- and wonder if it might be the undoing of a potentially special baseball team.

But if that's how we want to look at it, even the pitching staff on this team is cool with that.

[+] EnlargeJered Weaver
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJered Weaver doesn't want you to forget he started and left this game hours before it ended.

"It's kind of the opposite of how we've always been," said Weaver. "The Angels have always been pitching-staff-oriented. The focus has always been on the pitchers. So now that we have some pretty big bats in the lineup, it kind of takes the focus off of us and we can just go out there and do our job. And I think that's good as a whole. We just want to go out there and pitch. . . .

"We just have to give our team a chance to win, and that's really all we're looking for as a pitching staff," he said. "And I think our offense will take care of the rest."

Well, that's the theory, anyhow. It's just not quite the way it worked Monday.

Instead, the offense whiffed so many times, it made history -- making these Angels the first team in the live-ball era to strike out 17 times on Opening Day and win. So that was different.

Instead, seven Angels pitchers would give up a total of just three hits in 13 innings -- another feat no team since 1900 had ever accomplished in a game this long on Opening Day.

And the man who started it all, Weaver, finished bobbing and weaving his way through six innings, then spent the next three hours kicking back in the clubhouse, waiting for somebody to score a run.

"That's why I didn't know why you guys were coming over (to talk to him)," he quipped to the postgame media hordes. "I didn't know if you remembered I pitched or not."

Hey, of course we remembered. Us media hordes are sharper than we may appear to the naked eye. Please keep that in mind in the future. All right? But it WAS tough to keep track of everything that happened along this endless road to the 13th inning. We're happy to concede that.

At one point, in the 11th inning, manager Mike Scioscia made a real, live quadruple-switch as it became clear that he was on the verge of running out of bodies to write on his lineup card. He inserted a new center fielder (Peter Bourjos) and a new reliever (Mark Lowe). And he switched two other players (Trout and Mark Trumbo) to different positions. Feel free to check your box score and verify that really happened.

But when Scioscia was asked afterward if that was his first career quadruple-switch, he replied: "It might have been. And if I had more players on the bench, I would have made more."

Then, however, he tried running through what he'd done in his head and couldn't help but ask: "How'd you get 'quadruple?'"

After it was explained to him, he seemed actually pretty proud of it. It was, after all, the first interleague Opening Day game in the history of baseball. And if this game was any proof, Scioscia was ready to do whatever NL-rules wheeling and dealing were required.

"Whether I was ready or not, it's happening," he laughed.

Knowing this was coming, the Angels even constructed their Opening Day roster with this in mind, keeping plenty of relief-pitching bodies around just in case and building a versatile bench. So "the roster," Scioscia said, "was ready." And it's a good thing, he added, because "we were running out of bodies."

But luckily, they never did run out of bullpen arms. They ripped through six of them in all. And the six men who marched out of that pen combined to work seven innings, give up one hit and punch out nine hitters. And this team will sign up for six months of that.

That may not have been the script we all expected. But however they did it, it turned into a special day for a group that has a chance to be a special team.

"Because we were playing a National League team, it felt like a playoff game, with a playoff atmosphere," said Wilson. "With all the pomp and ceremony they have in Cincinnati on Opening Day, it just had a different feel. It just had that kind of intensity. Two really good teams meeting up like that, with a group of fans that was really into it. It was cool to be a part of. It didn't feel like a spring-training game. I'll tell you that."

Nope. It sure didn't. It was the beginning of what has a chance to be an epic journey for one of baseball's marquee teams. And somewhere along that journey, there's an excellent chance the offense will show up, too.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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