This is what I’ve been preaching to everybody, what you saw today at Angel Stadium. What happened in the regular season doesn’t matter now. It’s guys people don’t focus on who come through and decide playoff games.
That’s what we saw today with Jeff Mathis banging those two doubles, driving in the winning run, and throwing out Brett Gardner stealing second before Jorge Posada’s home run in the eighth inning. That was a huge play that shouldn’t be overlooked — the pitchout and throw to get Gardner.
And what a day it was for my locker mate, Howard Kendrick. He came through like a champion. He had a rough postseason last year, but this year, it’s different. He’s playing with fire, like he’s mad. And I like that.
This was more like it, more like us. We played the game hard, and we played it right. What happened in New York, that’s not our baseball. Today, we still made some mistakes, but it was more like us.
We kept battling and battling, and we came back and won a huge ballgame. Now we’ve got to carry that momentum into Game 4 and try to get CC Sabathia, one of the best.
This game today had to be a huge lift for a lot of guys. I was so happy for Vlad Guerrero. He said he was going to do something special, and he did it with that two-run homer in the sixth inning. That was Vladdy being Vladdy, crushing a fastball.
He said, “OK, I’ve got something for you.” It’s all about confidence, like with Howie. He’s got it now. In the second half, after he came back from Salt Lake, he was as hot as anybody. The man is a natural hitter. He’s got the ability to do some great things in this game.
I’m not in the Yankees’ clubhouse, so I have no idea what they’re thinking or feeling. We don’t care about what they do. We only care about what we do.
We definitely feel we can ride this wave and take another one tomorrow behind Scott Kazmir. The guy pitched great for us after coming over from the Rays.
Mathis, he has a lot of heart. He’s an old football player — you know, like me. When you’re a Division I recruit by a school like Florida State, you know you’re an athlete — and that’s Mathis. He’s got that bulldog in him, and he wants to win.
The playoffs is a totally different adrenaline and energy. Guys people aren’t expecting to see come through always shine. Guys like Mathis and Kendrick, they’re dangerous — and they showed it. Kendrick’s home run in the fifth inning got us going, changed the mood, like we had a chance. And then Vlad unloaded his shot.
As for my at-bat against Mariano Rivera in the 10th inning after Mathis doubled … not much I can say about that. He got us. He did what he always does, throwing me nothing but cutters. He threw me one that was yanked, and I tried to stay on it and make something happen. I hit it to Mark Teixeira for a force, and he got out of the inning. He’s Mariano Rivera. That’s what he does.
Mariano, that guy’s just too nasty. It’s not fair. What we need to do is get leads and keep them. That way we won’t have to deal with him.
When we left New York, I said I felt something was about to change. That’s what happened today. The Angels showed up and played the game with passion and purpose. We’ve got a lot of heart on this team, and we showed it today.
A lot of people around the game aren’t noticing how good our division, the AL West, is this season. If you look at the records, it’s the best of the six divisions – and it’s not even close.
I’m finally back now, playing again, but I’ve had a lot of time lately to watch games and study things, missing five weeks with the adductor strain on my right side. One thing I’ve seen is that our whole division has been playing some great baseball, whether the media recognizes it or not.
Check it out. After Sunday’s games, the AL West’s four teams are a combined 35 games over .500. The next closest is the AL East, 25 games over .500. That’s a 10-game gap.
Our Angels are 26 over, Texas is 17 over, and Seattle is four over. Oakland is 12 under .500.
The only way you can judge a division is how it does outside its own division, since you’re going to end up .500 playing each other. We’ve beaten up on the AL East, and I think that says a lot about how tough our division has been. We’re 21 games over .500 against the East. Boston is 11-20 against the West, and Tampa Bay is 8-17.
To be 35 games above .500 overall, that’s a division winning percentage of .537. Take all of our games outside the division, and our winning percentage is .553.
After the AL East, the next strongest division is the NL West, 12 games over .500. What that tells me is there’s great baseball being played all over the West. Look at Colorado and San Francisco, leading Florida and Atlanta in the Wild Card race, and Texas taking the lead from Boston for the AL Wild Card.
The NL East is nine games under .500, and the two Centrals are way down. The NL Central is 26 games under .500, and the AL Central is 37 games below .500.
The Yankees and Red Sox get most of the national publicity and attention, but if you put their records together, they’re 140-96. The Angels and Rangers combined are 138-95. That’s close to a dead heat.
I remember watching ESPN last year, hearing guys say that the Los Angeles Angels have the best record in baseball, but it’s because they beat up on a weak division. We beat up on everybody last year, not just the West.
To say we benefit from playing in a weak division, that’s just not true – especially this year. Our record in the division is not good. We’re 15-19. But we’re 23-10 against the AL East, 19-12 against the Central and 14-4 in Interleague Play.
The Rangers, look what they’re doing. Those guys can play. Seattle is hanging tough and still playing well, and Oakland’s playing good baseball with all the young players it has.
West Coast teams just get no respect. Why? I guess because everybody’s asleep in the East when we’re doing our thing.
I’m not in the AL Central any more, with the Twins, so I can tell you that the West is a lot better than people think. And I’m not even bringing up the travel factor, how our teams have to spend so much more time in the air and how that can wear on you over a long season.
The West is for real. Don’t sleep on us. And there’s a ton of great young talent coming up in both West divisions, so it should be wild out West for a long time to come.
For a couple of years now, people have been talking about the decline of the African-American player in Major League Baseball. The sport has made it a priority to get inner-city kids interested and involved in the game again, and the players have also done their part. I have the Torii Hunter Project, CC Sabathia has his, Jimmy Rollins has his thing going, Derrek Lee. Guys are doing what they can to get inner-city kids back into the game.
This is important to us, because it’s our heritage. Back in the days of the Negro Leagues, baseball was huge for African-Americans. They played in front of 20,000, 30,000 fans. Everybody was all dressed up, men in suits, women in dresses, everybody looking fine and having a great time.
The last 10 years we’ve seen a decline in African-Americans in the Majors, but there are signs it’s coming back around. Two years ago it was on its way to 7 percent African-American representation in the Major Leagues, but now it’s up to 10, 11 percent. That’s encouraging. It tells me these programs and projects are starting to work.
This series with the Dodgers is especially exciting for me. I’m always into the game — I don’t hide my love of playing baseball — but this Interleague series is definitely special. I look over at the other side of the field and see Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, Orlando Hudson, James Loney, Juan Pierre, Cory Wade. And Xavier Paul just went on the disabled list. That’s a lot of African-Americans on one team.
Over in our clubhouse, we’ve got Chone Figgins, Howard Kendrick, Darren Oliver, Gary Matthews Jr. and myself. It really feels good to see African-Americans playing the game and showing kids how they can have long, productive careers — and make a lot of money in this sport.
Like anything worthwhile, it’s never easy. It takes a lot of mental toughness. It’s a humbling game with a lot of failure involved. But it’s worth all the time and effort, believe me. I signed when I was 17, and I’m signed through 37 years old. That means I’ll have 20 years in the game, at least. How many guys do that in the NFL and NBA?
Last year it was the Angels, Rays and Brewers who had the highest percentage of African-Americans, but it looks to me like it’s the Dodgers and Angels now. Two L.A. teams, playing an exciting brand of baseball — old-school style. We go first to third, run the bases hard, play great defense. We compete..
I will have a big smile on my face tonight. I feel a lot of pride in what I’m seeing. I want inner-city kids to understand how great this game is, how you don’t have to have a 40-inch vertical leap or be able to run through a building to play baseball. You need desire, a strong work ethic, and you have to know how to handle failure and adversity.
The game is getting back to speed, moving away from all the focus being on power. You see how important the stolen base is again, with guys like Carl Crawford and Figgy. Heck, I’ve even got eight bags. Bobby Abreu is stealing bases.
This is the game our grandparents and their parents grew up loving. Knowing everything the Dodgers have represented for bringing Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella into the game and breaking down that color barrier, I’m so happy to see the team they’re putting on the field now.
I’m always excited to play the game and never take for granted how fortunate I am. This is going to be a great weekend of baseball.