ARLINGTON – This is where the long season ends, today, much too soon for us. It’s been a trying year. I’ve been humbled, and we’ve been humbled as a team. Nobody saw this coming, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When we get together for Spring Training, I want us all to remember how bad this felt. That will make us that much hungrier.
Looking back, we got beat down, starting in Spring Training. There was a lot of turnover, a lot of change. Four core guys left: Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, John Lackey and Darren Oliver. That’s a good piece of the club. And Gary Matthews Jr., too. He was an important role player for us.
It never really came together for us, other than that one stretch we put together in June where we played like us. The rest of the year, that wasn’t us at all. It was somebody else. We weren’t letting our talents flow. We were pressing, trying to do too much, trying to win games by ourselves.
When I signed here, I expected us to be dominant every year. We have to get that feeling back. One thing you can’t expect is injuries, and we had some big ones: Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis, Joel Pineiro, Jason Bulger. We lost key guys, and I think it kind of knocked us off balance because we didn’t have as much depth as in the past.
This is the first time in my career since 2000, when I was 24 years old, that I played on a team that didn’t have a winning record. With the Twins, we were always in contention. In 2005 I broke my ankle and we didn’t make the postseason, and we didn’t make it in 2007 even though we were fighting for it and got close. Then we made it my first two years here and were two wins away from the World Series last season.
This is a humbling season for me. Sometimes you have to be humbled. You get spoiled sometimes with winning. I have been slapped in the face and the team’s been slapped in the face. I’ve been winning my whole career, and I’m not used to this feeling.
Things don’t always work out the way you plan. I had sports hernia surgery on Nov. 27, and it took me time to get to where I could do my rehab. When I got to Spring Training, it was like I had to learn to run the bases with it again. I had a lot of catching up to do, and the truth is, I didn’t feel the same, like myself, until recently, in August and September.
It all went back to May of 2009 at Dodger Stadium when I crashed into the wall making a catch on Matt Kemp. Then I hit the wall hard in San Francisco a few weeks later, and my groin got really bad. I always try to play through injuries – that’s just who I am – but this was bad. I had to sit a long time, and when I came back I wasn’t right but I gave it my best shot.
Playing center field requires a lot of running, and it seems like I was doing even more than normal this season. My old explosion wasn’t there. I didn’t feel like myself going after balls. I could still make plays, but it wasn’t me. That was something that really hurt me. I always told myself I would retire if I couldn’t play center field, but life is about revising things. It’s like when I said I wasn’t going to get married until I was 25, and I got married when I was 21. Life happens, as they say.
Anyway, I always thought I loved center field more than the game itself. When the decision was made to move me to right field and play Peter Bourjos in center, I found out I loved the game more than center field. That was big. It was hard for me to give up center field, but I knew I had to do it. It improved our defense. Peter is showing what he can do out there. He’s not a finished product, and that’s what’s scary – seeing how good he is already and knowing that he can get so much better.
When Pete got here, I liked that he asked me questions. That let me know he really wanted it. He’s into the game and understands the game offensively and defensively. I wouldn’t put too much on him too soon – let him play and learn and grow. This is just the beginning for him, and I know what that’s like. When I started out in Minnesota, I had guys like Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack to show me things. Now I can do that with Peter, like I did with Denard Span while I was still with the Twins. Now he’s playing some good center field.
It’s funny, it wasn’t until the end of August, the beginning of September, that my legs started feeling a lot better. I felt like I had some burst again, and I was getting down the line better. I think that moving to right actually did help me save wear on my legs. In the long run, that can be a really good thing. Next Spring Training, I’m going to be primed.
We learned a lot this season through the humbling we took. Now we have to turn it back around and be the Angels. That’s all. Just be the Angels, who we are. That will be enough. I’m excited about coming back and getting back to the top, where we belong.
You can catch me on MLB Network with some commentary during the postseason, and I’ll try to be enthusiastic and upbeat. But you know me: I’d rather be on that field, helping drive the Angels toward our ultimate goal. Wait’ll next year.
SEATTLE – There are a few things I’d like to catch up on today – how my Angels are coming alive, Ken Griffey Jr., my man from Arkansas Derek Fisher – but first I’d like to let fans know about something new on the site.
I’d like you to become a part of my VIP Mobile Fan Club! It’s free to join. All you have to do is text Go Torii to the number 68398. We will be doing giveaways and contests all season long.
All the information can be found here: http://www.toriihunter.com/news.php?news=49
As for the Angels, it’s been a long climb, but we’re starting to play and feel like ourselves again. That is really good to see, for everybody. Where we were in April, it could only get better. We were so down and out, it wasn’t even our team. Defensively, offensively, pitching . . . that wasn’t us. We didn’t even have our instincts. It was strange.
Now it’s more like us. We’re in games to the finish. Even when we lose, we feel like we’ve got a shot, that we just ran out of innings. It wasn’t like that in April. I hate that we lost Kendry Morales, one of our best hitters and run producers – and a guy who was playing great defense at first base. We’re trying to fill in with my old buddy Michael Ryan and Mike Napoli, Robb Quinlan. You can’t really replace a guy like Kendry, but if we get production from the rest of our big bats, we’ll score runs.
Hideki Matsui is swinging like he can again, and that’s great to see. This guy can hit. I’ve always said that, and he’s showing it again. With Bobby Abreu and the other guys getting on base and the big guys producing runs, we can score. Our pitching is definitely coming around and our defense is getting more consistent, too. I’m excited about where we are. I keep coming back to last year, when we were 29-29 on June 11 and took off after we had a terrible loss in Tampa Bay.
It’s that time of year where a lot of these guys start to heat up. I’ve always been that way, and I’ve been feeling good at the plate. I tend to heat up with the weather.
It’s sad to be here in Seattle and not see Ken Griffey Jr. He’s one of my favorite players and favorite guys. He was a little ahead of me, and I used to watch everything he did and try to do it like he did. I even tried swinging from the left side when I was young, because I loved his swing so much. It was perfect. The thing about Junior was he loved the game and everything about it. He made it fun, showed everyone that you could play the game all-out – crashing into walls, making fantastic plays – and still have a smile on your face. He had a big influence on me, just like Kirby Puckett when I was a young kid with the Twins.
One last word on the blog is for Derek Fisher of the Lakers. When I was growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, one of our big rivals was D-Fish’s high school, Little Rock Parkview. We were only about 30 minutes away, and we played them in everything. Lots of great memories there.
D-Fish was a legend in high school. He was going for 30, 40 points a game. I remember he got 55 one time. I didn’t play against him – he was a little ahead of me in school – but I watched him play. Naturally, I’m pulling for D-Fish now. I’ve also had some great times in Minnesota with Kevin Garnett of the Celtics, so I have a rooting interest in both teams in those NBA Finals.
All right, time to get to work. We’re wearing old-school uniforms from 1995 today against the Mariners. I was in my third year or pro ball in ’95, turning 20 years old, playing at Fort Myers. Man, that’s a long time ago.
We’ve been playing good ball lately and plan to keep it going. We’re going to do everything we can to take it all the way. You know that.
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.
We earned ourselves another trip to the big city, to New York. It wasn’t easy, but we made it happen. I’m so proud of this team, the way it keeps coming back.
The Angels are for real. I don’t think anybody can doubt that now.
Man, I was going crazy out there in the seventh inning. They scored six runs to take the lead, and we came right back to get three and then held on. Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy, right?
That ninth inning got to me. My knee started hurting me. That hasn’t happened all year. I guess it was the intensity of the moment. My heart was beating fast. It was very exciting — especially when Erick Aybar got under that last popup by Nick Swisher on the 3-2 pitch by Brian Fuentes and it was finally over.
We came out and played our game. We were aggressive right from the start. I’m not giving away any strategies, but A.J. Burnett, last time we faced him in New York, got ahead of us pounding the strike zone. We came out taking some good swings after Chone Figgins worked a walk to get us started.
Bobby Abreu stroked that double to center, which put two guys in scoring position. I got something I liked and drove it past Derek Jeter for two runs. That’s a good feeling, us getting off to a good start like that. Then Vladimir Guerrero and Kendry Morales came through with hits, and we’re up 4-0. I’m sure John Lackey liked that.
But we knew four runs weren’t safe, not against that team. Lackey pitched great, man. I had a good view of that 3-2 pitch to Jorge Posada that was called a ball. It was a good pitch, man. People are asking about Lackey reacting the way he did, but if you don’t react on a call like that, you shouldn’t be here. It’s a natural reaction, nothing bad or hostile about it. He thought he threw a strike and didn’t get the call, and it was big. I don’t blame John for reacting like he did. Any competitor would have done that.
That was a fight, a battle to the finish. Those guys never give up, and neither do we. That’s why this is such a great matchup. There’s a lot of mutual respect here, I think.
We know they’ve got Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, so it’s important to get early leads and hold onto them. That’s what we need to do against Andy Pettitte in Game 6 on Saturday. We’re looking for another good effort by Joe Saunders, who really pitched well in Game 2 against Burnett in New York.
Joe is cool, and he likes the weather cold, being from Virginia. I’m pretty sure he’ll get that kind of weather again. I don’t think it’ll be in the 70s, like it is in Southern California this time of year. But let’s not get started about the weather again. The cold didn’t beat us those first two games. We didn’t make plays we usually make. We didn’t play like the Angels.
Tonight, when we had to — we were the Angels, the team we’ve been all year. We’ve been on a mission to win this for Nick Adenhart’s family, and that mission continues.
We got what we were after, a return trip to New York. Now we plan to make the best of it and force a Game 7. But it’s one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time.
I’ve got a headache right now. This excitement is getting to me. I can use a day to relax and get ready for another battle in the Bronx.
This is my sixth postseason, and it’s a whole new season. It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season. It’s all about who wants it more. You see guys who hit 30, 40 homers, drive in 100 runs, and they don’t do a thing in postseason. You’ve got pitchers who dominate in the regular season and don’t win in the postseason. It’s the same game, but different.
I think guys here learned from last year, losing in four games to Boston. I’m not saying any names, but I can hear it in their voices, see it in their eyes. It’s totally different. The younger guys have that bulldog in them now. It’s what I was waiting to see, and I’m seeing it now.
I love this time of year. It takes me back to high school football in Pine Bluff, Ark., when I just wanted to go out and hit guys. I still want to hit — just a different kind of hitting.
Even though it’s the same game, the adrenaline and hype of it take you up to another level. You’ve got to block it out, go out and have fun. I don’t think anything needs to be said. We finished off on a good note, winning seven of the last eight, and we’re carrying that momentum into the postseason.
One thing about the playoffs – you don’t need any coffee. You don’t want to get too boosted up. I hurt my knee jumping up and down on a play last year against the Red Sox where I thought I was safe – and I wasn’t. The adrenaline was going crazy on me. I’m drinking straight water. Pure adrenaline is going to take over for you.
My whole focus is on the Red Sox, of course, but I’ve got to say, that Twins-Tigers playoff game was awesome. I watched it at home, and I caught myself every once in a while cheering for the guys I used to play with in Minnesota. They battled through it and got it done, and to do it without Justin Morneau, one of the best pure hitters in the game, and Joe Crede, that was impressive. But I know those guys, how much heart they have, how they battle.
Now they go on to New York. In 2003 and 2004, the Yankees put it on us. Hopefully, they can get it done. I texted most of the guys after it was over and told them how happy I was for them. It was a roller-coaster ride, and I was really excited for Alexi Casilla, getting the big hit, and of course for Joe Mauer and the rest of the guys.
Now they just go on straight adrenaline. The Twins probably have momentum, coming off a playoff game, a great win, but that’s a good team they’re playing.
The Twins are probably the closest team to us in their style. They’ve got a batting champion in Mauer, and they always play hard. I think we might have a couple more athletes. Put us on a football field, and we’d win. We have some old quarterbacks on this team – John Lackey, Jeff Mathis, Scott Kazmir, myself. Mathis would be our QB. He was a division I recruit, by Florida State.
I’ve got a lot of confidence in Lackey in Game 1. John’s a bulldog who wants the ball every fifth day. He’s not afraid to throw strikes. The passion he has on the mound, when he comes into the dugout, either he’s upset or excited. I always like our chances when he’s out there.
As for our offense, you can’t say enough about what Bobby Abreu has brought to this team. Bobby’s whole thing is swing at strikes – whether it’s the first pitch or the last pitch you see. It’s simple, but it’s hard, especially for young guys and a hitter like Vladimir Guerrero, who’s always been so aggressive. Vladdy’s Vladdy. He’s been playing and doing it his way for a long time. And he’s a Hall of Famer.
Bobby definitely had a positive impact on me. I’ve been playing for years, but I’m getting better. Besides his approach on the field, another thing Bobby brings is the way he prepares himself. He gets here early, does his running, lifts his weights. Guys see that, and they want to be like Bobby. They know he’s always on the field.
The way Bobby carries himself, that’s another thing he brings to the clubhouse. He’s always relaxed, always singing. He’s a bad singer, but that’s OK. He’s suave. One of a kind.
I really like the way we set up with Chone Figgins and Bobby up top, then the rest of us. Those two guys know how to get on base and run the bases. Guys like Vlad, Juan Rivera, Kendry Morales, we’ve got some bangers in the middle. We have a lot of weapons.
I think we’re ready. Now it’s time to go out and get it done.
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.