Angel Food: Scioscia Under Fire

David Ortiz had barely crossed the plate, or so it seemed, before the idiot brigades -- no, we don't mean the Red Sox ("We're the Idiots," gigapest Johnny Damon likes to say of them) -- began measuring Mike Scioscia for piano wire.

Five minutes after the Anaheim Angels' radio broadcast team cut to a post-game show for what turns out the final time of the season, there it came, from a harrumphing caller: "Mike Scioscia's Mauch moment." Oh, brother. And it got worse within five more minutes, when another caller harrumphed about the allegedly uncouth Boston Red Sox fans soiling the sweet ambience of Angel Stadium.

This isn't going to come easily for me. I am, among other things, a Boston Red Sox fan since the 1967 pennant race and an Anaheim Angels fan since I relocated to southern California in 1999. But Gene Mauch lost an awful lot more out of his signature pitching changes than Mike Scioscia has lost out of his. And the worst I can remember out of any Red Sox fans was their hounding poor Bill Buckner out of his New England home at last and out to the quiet ranch and real estate life he now lives.

I can't remember the last time Red Sox fans hounded any Red Sox player into his grave. Donnie Moore, anyone?

Even when the blogosphere strains for a little perspective on what ended when Ortiz dialed the far side of the Monster in the bottom of the tenth, there's something missing. The author of 6-4-2: An Angels/Dodgers Double Play Blog isolated the point: "Arte (Moreno) and Bill Stoneman have had a message delivered to them with unmistakable clarity. The Angels never held a lead in this series. They didn't win a single game."

Er, yes they did. Picking the best possible time to pick up his first postseason hit, Vladimir Guerrero rapped a two-RBI single that gave the Angels a 3-1 lead in the second game. But forgive our 6-4-2 friends. The lead lasted a literal blink of the eye; the Red Sox tied the game a half inning later, and the Angels never got better than a tie the rest of the night. Of course, nobody in this postseason has tied one yet with as many dropped jaws, the way Guerrero tied it in the seventh Friday night, hitting a monstrous grand slam that lowered the cone of silence upon Fenway Park.

Baseball Told the Right Way tells it absolutely the wrong way, in an entry called "The ABSOLUTE worst pitching change in the history of baseball ... ever." Consider: "After watching Francisco Rodriguez embarrass the best lineup in baseball for 2 2/3 innings, after watching only one solidly hit ball, after watching K-Rod make Manny Ramirez (the best non-Barry Bonds hitter in baseball) look like a AAA call-up TWICE."

I didn't know an embarrassed team follows two punchouts by beating out a grounder to short right center, prying out a 3-1 walk, and rapping a grounder for a close enough putout. I didn't know an embarrassed team spends the next inning putting the bat on the ball, even if for three-up, three-down. As if someone doesn't look like a Triple-A callup twice on weak rollers up the first base line or skyscraping popouts to the infield.

But it had an even better beginning. "Last year, we saw the worst NON-pitching change in the history of the game. This morning, Mike Scioscia has joined the halls of Grady 'Gump' Little." Well now.

I'm taking a wild guess that that author and the rest of the harrumphant haven't figured out that Scioscia didn't have half as much to lose. That Grady Little had the pennant on the line, but the Red Sox had three innings yet to come to break the tie. That Gene Mauch had the pennant on the line and the Angels had three innings and two more games, as it turned out, to overcome the nasty little knee-high, slightly outside forkball that Dave Henderson reached and sent into the left field bleachers.

Darrell Johnson had more to lose than Scioscia when he lifted Jim Willoughby in 1975. (Can we say, "The World Series?") Joe McCarthy had more to lose when he lifted Ellis Kinder in Yankee Stadium. (Can we say, "the pennant?") Charlie Dressen had more to lose when he brought in Ralph Branca rather than Carl Erskine. (Can we say, "The Giants win the pennant/The Giants win the pennant?")

The worst Scioscia had to lose was prolonging the agony. These Angels, running on fumes after a grinding stretch drive and an American League West clinch that may have made childbirth resemble a minuet, were pretty well overmatched by these Red Sox. And even if the Angels might have nudged Tim Wakefield to one side in a fourth game, Curt Schilling would have been saying "Hello, again!" in a fifth game.

Maybe I shouldn't ask how many Angel fans dared watch ESPN Classic the morning of the game. ESPN Classic thought it the perfect time to show That Game, Mauch's moment, the single most stupefying loss in the Angels' long enough history of surreality. The idiot brigades may demand an investigation into whether ESPN Classic had been hit with a hostile takeover by Red Sox fans.

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