Electrifying, exhilarating Angels taking wing
With victory over Rangers, Halos take first place in AL West
ARLINGTON -- The performance put on by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday night was equal parts electrifying and successful.
With a 4-1 win over the Rangers, the Angels earned a series victory and took sole possession of first place in the American League West. It is too early to become overly excited about the standings, but it is not too early to notice the quality of this club.
The Angels' starting pitching has been "terrific," as even the team's usually understated manager, Mike Scioscia, acknowledges. It was terrific again on Wednesday, in a genuinely appealing early-season matchup between two unbeaten pitchers, Jered Weaver of the Angels and Matt Harrison of the Rangers.
Weaver had the better of it, running his record to 5-0 and improving his ERA to 1.23 -- a complete game, one run, six hits, no walks, eight strikeouts. No other starting pitcher in the game is working as well, unless, of course, that pitcher is Weaver's teammate, Dan Haren.
Because of injuries, the Angels are missing two of their projected starters -- Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir -- but they have more than compensated.
In this game the Angels demonstrated something for everyone -- pitching, defense, speed, power, it was all in the mix.
Weaver has been extraordinary so far, but he had significant assistance on Wednesday night. In the seventh inning, the Rangers' David Murphy hit a drive that would have hit the top of the wall in center except for the fact that it was caught by center fielder Peter Bourjos, who made a sensational leaping grab.
In fact, the catch was doubly sensational because of the speed required for Bourjos to get to the wall in the first place. Major League scouts have suggested that Bourjos is among the fastest players in the game, but that speed functions in combination with some exceptional baseball instincts. Bourjos gets great jumps on balls. He is 24, but his defensive game suggests much more maturity than that age would allow.
"Right when I got to the wall, I was like, 'Oh my God, how did I get here?' " Bourjos said. "At the last minute, it hung in the air, and I was able to jump and catch it. It was pretty cool."
The catch left Bourjos' awe-struck teammates producing descriptions that went a bit beyond "pretty cool." Nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter, who moved to right field to make room for Bourjos, knew a highlight-reel play when he saw it.
"That was impressive," Hunter said. "He was the one who made the play. I was the one with the chills, screaming like a little girl."
On the mound, Weaver pumped his fist, rejoicing in the ability of his center fielder.
"That was awesome," Weaver said. "It gave me a lot of motivation. It was unbelievable."
Bourjos' speed figured in the Angels' offense as well. With the score 1-0 in the fifth, with one out and the bases empty, Bourjos tripled to right-center. Maybe it was a double for most people, but it was a triple for Bourjos.
Catcher Jeff Mathis followed with a squeeze bunt toward the mound. Harrison came off the mound quickly enough, and against most mortals he could have had a play at the plate. But Harrison had noticed Bourjos streaking down the line from third, and during that glimpse, the impressive speed at which Bourjos was moving also registered.
In serious haste, trying to field the bunted ball and get it to the plate in one motion, Harrison could only bobble it. Bourjos scored, and Mathis was safe at first.
The Angels' offense has not been a push-button operation to date. Then again, first baseman Kendrys Morales, who figured to be one of this club's leading run producers, is still recovering from surgery on his left ankle.
On Wednesday night, with runs at a premium, the Angels hit two solo homers. One was by second baseman Howard Kendrick, who is tied for the AL lead in homers, with six. The other came from left fielder Vernon Wells. It was Wells' first of the season, but it offered tangible evidence that he is on his way out of an early-season slump.
Wells has hit in six straight games, and his substantial track record says that he'll be a helpful addition to this lineup.
Postgame, Scioscia turned aside any and all attempts to get into a "feel good" framework after taking two out of three from the Rangers and/or climbing into first place. There are still issues with individual hitters, there is a general need for more timely hitting with runners in scoring position and there are bullpen roles to be defined, he said.
"Yes, we're playing good baseball, but we have a long way to go before we get to be where we need to be for the long haul," Scioscia said.
You knew what he meant, and what he meant was true. But on this night, what your eyes told you was that the Angels are capable of being not only a successful team, but an exhilarating team.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.