For me, personally, this has probably been the worst first half of my career. It’s a combination of things. Every time I’ve started to feel good, something has happened, little setbacks. As a team, we struggled the first couple of months, but our pitching kept us alive.
I can’t give enough credit to our pitching staff, especially Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Both those guys deserve to be in the All-Star Game – and Jered deserves to start. When you’ve got two guys like that, they keep you out of losing streaks and add on to winning streaks. There aren’t many teams that have starting pitching like ours, and it all starts with those two guys. Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and the young guy, Tyler Chatwood, all have pitched well, too. And the bullpen has done the job with the new lefties, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, giving us balance.
Once we got the breaking news that Kendrys Morales was not returning this season, as a team we kind of folded for about 10 games. That was a very frustrating time for the team, the coaching staff and the front office. It took us about two weeks to realize he’s not going to come back and be with us. We had to come together. We did that, and you can see now that we’re back to playing Angels baseball.
This is the team Mike Scioscia pulled out of Spring Training, the team we thought we were going to be. Vernon Wells is hot, and I’m starting to swing pretty well. We know how much this team needs us to be productive, and we’re determined to do our part. Bobby Abreu is Bobby Abreu. He plays the game right every day. Our infield has been playing great, from All-Star Howard Kendrick to Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo and the kid at first, Mark Trumbo.
The key for us now is staying healthy. If we can do that, I really believe this team is capable of going to the World Series.
With all that we went through in the first half – the Morales news, injuries to a lot of guys, including Vernon and myself – it’s amazing to think we’re tied for first place in the American League West right now. That tells me how strong we are and how good we can be.
I have a saying: Don’t let a setback hold you back. Prepare for a comeback. That’s what all the guys have done. While we were struggling, we were preparing for a comeback. We’ve got a lot of strong individuals on this team, and that’s what it takes to get through hard times. We made adjustments and made progress. We don’t give up. We never give up.
I can’t say enough about what all our young guys have done. They’ve been thrown out there with a lot of pressure on them, and they’ve performed.
Look at Hank Conger, our young catcher. That’s a tough position, with a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. You’ve got to command everything, calm pitchers down, call the right pitches, block the plate, block pitches. There’s so much to that job, and Hank has come a long way for a guy in his first full year. We’re in good shape behind the plate with Hank, Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson. That’s great depth at an important position.
Then you look at Mark Trumbo at first base. He’s holding it down. He knew he was under pressure because of Kendrys not being here, and he has come through for us in a big way. Around the league first base is known for power, and he’s been holding his own. It’s not easy when you don’t know the pitchers or the league. The guy has tremendous power and he wants to be good. He works at it. For a first year guy, he’s doing a great job defensively, I think.
Peter Bourjos in center field, what can you say? The guy has been unbelievable. He’s playing Gold Glove defense and growing in confidence at the plate and on the bases. I love to work with a guy with that kind of speed, and the great thing about Pete is, he doesn’t think he knows everything. He really wants to learn. He’s very humble, but he’s also tough when he steps between the lines. He was a football player in high school, catching touchdowns and running back kicks for touchdowns. That sport toughens you up. Only the strong survive. I played football. So did Vernon and Jeff Mathis. You need that kind of intensity and toughness on a team.
Jordan Walden is another kid who’s been put in an important role, closing games, and what he’s done is very impressive. He’s got great stuff and a good attitude. He’s not afraid, either. None of our young guys are. That’s why I think their upside is so great. It’s kind of scary when you think what all these kids are capable of doing when they settle in.
As a team, we’ve struggled, and we’ve fought back. I really like where the Angels are right now. I’m really looking forward to what’s ahead of us.
ANAHEIM – It’s great to be back in our park, back home. We got everything accomplished we needed to do in Arizona, and now it’s time to get ready for the real thing. We’re looking forward to seeing the Twins on Monday, so we can get this show started.
I know there’s been a lot of attention focused on the guys we lost this winter – Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver, Gary Matthews Jr. But that’s the way the game is. Guys move on, and you adapt. We’ve made some great additions, and I’m really excited with the team we’ve put together here.
Of course, it hurts losing teammates who were friends. A guy like Figgy, he was a respected man in the clubhouse, a leadoff guy who scored more than 100 runs and saved a lot of runs with his glove. He played the game right. But he got a great deal in Seattle, just like I got a great deal here. I’m happy for Figgy, but he’s on the other side now, and we’ll compete against each other with everything we’ve got.
I’ve got a ton of confidence in Erick Aybar taking over as the leadoff man. He’s a young guy with tremendous talent coming off a big year. And he can fly. He’s going to be fun to watch on the bases. With another year of experience with his mentor, Bobby Abreu, Aybar should be even better.
Bobby’s one of the best leaders in the game, and I’m so happy he’s back. You could see his influence last year in how much Aybar and Kendry Morales and so many other guys improved during the season. Bobby even helped out veterans like Figgy and me in a big way by showing us how to be more disciplined and selective at the plate. Everyone learned from watching Bobby and listening to him.
Lackey was a bulldog, one of the reasons I wanted to come here, but he got a great deal in Boston. We signed Joel Pineiro to replace Lackey in the rotation, and I’m impressed with Pineiro. You’ve got to like a guy who throws strikes and keeps the ball down. He should get real deep in games with our defense behind him.
With Pineiro, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir, we’ve got five solid starters, five guys who will give us a chance to win every night. We’re built to win with that rotation and with a deep bullpen. We’ve got some big arms out there, and this is Brian Fuentes’ second year in the American League. That always helps, getting that first year to figure things out.
Hideki Matsui is the guy I call the Quiet Assassin. He’s as clutch as they come, in a quiet way. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Hideki does in our lineup. He’s a pro, like Bobby, and you can never have enough of those guys.
Morales was born to hit. I call him Captain Caveman and Bam-Bam. He’s solid, strong and he always wants to use that stick and hit. And he’s good down at first with the glove.
Hitting behind Aybar and Bobby, and in front of Hideki, Morales, Juan Rivera, Howard Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, Maicer Izturis. That’s a lot of talent, a load of weapons.
Brandon Wood, his thing is to play defense and do his part. Let us have the pressure. That’s why they’re paying us. We just want him to relax and play. He’s got it in him to hit at least 20 homers, with 70-plus RBIs. If he does that, he helps the team tremendously. The way he’s played third base, he’s been impressive.
Everybody knows what Izturis can do – pretty much whatever you need. He’s versatile and clutch, the kind of guy every winning team needs. Kendrick is going to do some really big damage this year. He’s my pick to click. I definitely feel he’s one day going to win that batting title, if he can just stay healthy.
With the kind of talent we have in front of me and behind me, I should be in a good position to drive in runs and score a lot of runs. All I have to do is stay on the field.
I was on my way to my best season ever when I messed up my groin crashing into walls last year. I really feel good now – once I broke the scar tissue sliding this spring, I was good to go. I don’t even think about the sports hernia surgery I had last winter anymore. I’m ready to get after it.
I think we’re built to win the division. There’s a reason why the Angels have won the AL West three years in a row and five of the past six. These guys know how to compete, how to win. I thought we had a great year last season, considering everything we went through losing Nick Adenhart. We’ll never forget Nick, what he meant to us.
This team has a lot of heart. Our mission this season is to take it all the way. We can’t wait to get started.
I just got into Arizona to host a charity golf event, and I figured it was a good time to catch up.
First off, I want to say I’m really happy we signed my buddy Bobby Abreu to come back and play for the Angels. I’ll get to pick his brain some more now. Bobby’s so smart, and so valuable. He can hit in a lot of places in the lineup, and he’s a great leader, sharing all his knowledge and wisdom. He also cracks everybody up with his sense of humor, and you need that over a long season.
I spoke with Chone Figgins a few days ago, but we didn’t talk about his free agency situation. I know he’ll do what’s right for him and his family. Chone’s a smart guy. I was eating some red beans and rice, and he said he was hungry. That guy loves his red beans and rice.
I got word today that I won my ninth straight Rawlings Gold Glove, and that’s always a thrill. What makes it so meaningful is that it’s voted on by the managers and coaches, the men who know what’s really going on out there. Much respect from them is important to me, because they recognize all the things that go into being a good defensive player, like hitting the cutoff man, throwing to the right base, backing up guys along with making all the routine plays – and some spectacular ones.
I was disappointed my teammates, Figgy and Erick Aybar, didn’t win their first Gold Gloves. Both those guys were deserving. They worked so hard and had tremendous seasons, defensively and offensively. Those are two of the premier athletes in the game, with great speed and quickness and strong arms. Their time will come.
I thought I was having my best season when I injured my groin running into walls first at Dodger Stadium and then in San Francisco. Missing all those games, 32, that really hurt. When I came back, my groin was sore for another month or so, but I’m not second-guessing what I did. I play the game all out. You can’t worry about getting hurt.
I’m really looking forward to staying healthy next season and putting up some good numbers and helping us to get to our ultimate goal this time, the World Series. We were so close . . . but the Yankees beat us fair and square in the ALCS, and they showed how good they were winning the World Series.
I like to relax as much as I can after a long season, but there are things to take care of, too. The Torii Hunter Celebrity Golf Classic I’m hosting will benefit schools and kids in need the next two days at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino.
Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks and his brother, B.J., of the Rays also are here helping out, and we’ve got a lot of big names showing up. Benefits will go to The Torii Hunter Project, The Heart of a Champion Foundation, Teleos Preparatory Academy in Phoenix and Sacaton Middle School on the Gila River Indian Reservation.
Tonight we have a gourmet dinner and a performance by Brian McKnight, a great recording artist. On Wednesday, we’ll have an exclusive pre-round golf clinic hosted by former PGA Tour professionals and golf TV analysts Gary McCord and David Feherty. Golfers, sponsors and some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment will then hit the course for a round of golf at The Whirlwind Golf Club at Wild Horse Pass.
Tonight’s emcee is Harold Reynolds, the former second baseman now doing TV commentary. We’re looking forward to having some of my teammates – Joe Saunders, Howard Kendrick, Jason Bulger, Mike Napoli and Scott Kazmir – along with my old buddy David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Darryl Strawberry, Nick Swisher, Derrek Lee, Tony Clark, Eddie Murray, Chris Young, Don Baylor, Kenny Lofton, Mark Grace and many others.
If you want to know more about the Torii Hunter Celebrity Golf Classic or to purchase tickets, call (480) 245-7177 or visit www.toriihunter.com.
I hope all my fans and fans everywhere have a great offseason. I’ll stay in touch now and then. Take good care of yourselves and your families.
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.
We’re going to Boston feeling good about being up 2-0, but we’re staying hungry. We won’t be satisfied until this is over. We’re going to enjoy these two wins, but we know how dangerous the Red Sox are, and we’ve got a job to finish now.
So many guys came through in this second game, but you have to start with Jered Weaver. Man, he was dealing. I’ve got a great view out in center field, and he was on his game, just like John Lackey in Game 1. Weaver’s been doing it all season, and he really brought it out on the big stage. And that was great to see, after the way he’s performed all year long for us.
We’re having fun, playing our game. It’s something we’re talking about. Let’s have fun and let our God-given ability take place.
Josh Beckett is a big-game pitcher, one of the best. It’s not easy to beat a guy like Beckett. His ball was moving, like usual, but we had some great at-bats and scored some runs.
How about Vladimir Guerrero, going the other way for a big hit and then drawing that walk to get our seventh inning started. We were having a lot of fun with Vladdy over that. The big man really came through. He’s a Hall of Famer.
Then Howard Kendrick comes in to run for Vladdy and steals a big bag. Beckett’s quick over to first, so it’s not easy to run on him. Howie got a nice jump and beat it cleanly. Then Maicer Izturis, who hadn’t even played for about a week, walks up and does what he does – he slammed that huge base-hit to center field for the lead.
Maicer is one of those quiet guys people don’t pay much attention to, but he can play the game. He does it all, and he’s a guy you want up there in a big situation, because he’s so cool.
Big Mike Napoli goes old school and takes a pitch in the back, and that keeps it going. And then Erick Aybar — what a season he’s had — he goes up and crushes that ball to center field, and he’s flying to third base. That’s the way we play the game, hard, aggressively. Aybar’s not scared. He loves to compete.
We know all about the Red Sox. Those guys are not going to let up. They’ve been down before and come back. We can enjoy this now, but starting Sunday, forget that and go out and play the game.
The next one is at noon on Sunday, East Coast time, and we’ve got a day to get adjusted and be ready. I might have a cup of coffee before that one. Hopefully, we’ll all get some good sleep and be ready to go.
When I first came up to big league camp with the Twins in 1997, Paul Molitor was nearing the end of his career, and he had a big impact on me. What’s interesting is that I now see so many similarities between Molitor and Bobby Abreu, who has been such a great teammate this season.
Molly came over and didn’t talk about himself, what he’d done. He just talked about things that he thought could help me. It wasn’t like he was trying to tell me what to do – he was giving me options, things to think about. He wasn’t about changing your swing. It was about figuring out the best ways to use your natural ability.
One of the things Molly stressed was getting a good pitch to hit. Be aggressive, but also be smart. Don’t bury yourself in counts swinging at pitchers’ pitches. I’d been a very aggressive hitter in my Minor League career, and Molly stressed that I had a better chance of getting hits swinging at strikes.
He had so much information and was so willing to share it, I couldn’t understand why more guys didn’t go to him. Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones and myself, we all tried to pick his brain every chance we got. He was a DH in ’97 and ’98, at the end of his career, but we knew everything he accomplished – 3,000 hits, clutch hitter, World Series champion.
He had a short stroke and was aggressive up there. Back in those days, it wasn’t about on-base percentage and walks as much as it is now, and from my point of view that’s more about how the strike zone has changed than anything else. You look at old game film on MLB Network, and you’ll see strikes called that are balls now.
With Bobby, it’s the same thing here, working with all these young guys, as it was with Molly in Minnesota. Bobby will talk about hitting, baserunning, defense, anything you want to talk about. He knows the game inside-out.
He’s been a huge help to Erick Aybar, Kendry Morales, even veteran players like Chone Figgins and myself. Howard Kendrick, I’m sure he’s gone to Bobby. When you have somebody like that in your clubhouse, you take advantage of his knowledge.
One thing Bobby pushes is that you’ve got a better chance to get a hit in the strike zone – the same thing Molly talked about. With Bobby, he can tell you about it and show you how to do it. His approach up there is amazing. He has such great awareness of the strike zone and confidence in his ability to hit with two strikes. He’s always looking for that pitch he can handle, and when he sees it, he goes after it.
Something else about Bobby: He’s always been a clutch hitter. Just like Molly. When I was in Minnesota, Bobby was the one guy we didn’t want to beat us. Everybody knew what kind of hitter he was in the clutch.
It seems like Bobby is finally starting to get the respect he deserves with the media and fans. He’s always had much respect from the players. Everyone in the game knows what a great player he’s been for a long time.
When you think about it, it was that way with Molly too. Late in his career, people started looking at his numbers and seeing how great he’d been for a long time.
I’ve been lucky to play with two guys like that – total pros who play the game right and love to share their knowledge and experience.
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.