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Angels a fun crew, indeed

Special to

Aug. 4
Their owners would like to get rid of them. The only deal their front office has made since the season started was the Kimera Bartee-for-Desmond Figgins blockbuster in mid-July.

But here it is August, and after sweeping the Red Sox in a three-game series at Fenway Park this week they went into Yankee Stadium on Friday night just five games in the race for the American League wild card.

Jarrod Washburn
Jarrod Washburn is 5-1 over his last eight starts.

"This is an unusual team," says second baseman Adam Kennedy. "We keep surprising people."

Themselves included.

The Angels are a hard team not to like. "We may not be the most talented team," says Sand Frog band member Scott Spiezio. "But we try."

Where last season they had several players have career seasons, this year it's been a struggle. Other than Garret Anderson, who is on a 30-homer, 120-RBI pace, none of their top players have put up their normal stats.

Troy Glaus went into the New York series barely batting above .250, and he's a superstar. Darin Erstad has limped through a number of issues, and is hitting just .260. Mo Vaughn, meanwhile, is out for the year, and Anderson says, "that's been a big loss and an adjustment, because Mo took responsibility for everything on this team." Tim Salmon, after years of facing breaking balls, has played (.213) like a guy who forgot how to catch up to a fastball.

And yet they're in this thing, a game over .500 in May and June, five over in July and 3-1 in August.

"Our players play hard and give everything they have," says Angels manager Mike Scioscia. All of which is a credit to Scioscia, who in his second year as a manager, has earned a reputation as one of the best managers in the game.

Scioscia understands pitching, and he also happens to have in Bud Black a pitching coach whose reputation has skyrocketed. Their handling of the bullpen has been supreme (the bullpen has an ERA under 3.00). Their ability to develop young talent has given them, in Jarrod Washburn, Scott Schoeneweis and Ramon Ortiz three of the better young starters in the league. Washburn (nine wins), Schoeneweis (eight) and Ortiz (nine) all are a game or two from double figures in wins. Last year, Ortiz was the only Angels starter to win at least eight games.

"The way our pitching has developed, we believe that our best part of the season is in front of us," says Kennedy, who along with David Eckstein and Benji Gil have proven that there's more to the game than tools. "What happens is everyone gets hot."

Erstad is capable of hitting .380 the rest of the way, and is far better focused now. Glaus is capable of hitting .300 and smacking 20 homers in two months.

It's easy to root for this team.

"When we come to a place like Fenway, it reminds us of how much we love the game," says Anderson. "Fans here gave Ugueth Urbina a standing ovation the first time he got up in the bullpen after the trade. I know players think it's tough here, but consider the alternatives, where people don't care. It's an advantage to the Cardinals and Red Sox and Yankees because their fans care and make every night urgent. We don't have that. We're never on the front page of the (L.A.) Times. People don't get worked up. I know East Coast talk-show callers rip everything, but consider the alternative -- we don't get any of that passion."

Players long for what some East Coast players dislike -- the passion. "It feels good to be back on the East Coast and hear the fans," said Scioscia of the Fenway Park crowd.

For the Angels to be within hailing distance of the wild card in the first week of August is remarkable, a testament to Scioscia, Black, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, and oh so many more. It also says a lot about Erstad, Glaus, Salmon, et al that they kept their heads above water when they weren't hitting at their expected norms.

Their owners would like to disown them. The rest of us think the Angels are what we'd be, a bunch of guys who play as hard as they can for as long as they can without regard for what's supposed to be. They're a team awfully easy to root for, day in and day out, like 25 guys named Erstad and Schoeneweis and Eckstein.

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