Dearly beloved, thank you for being with me here today as we gather to mourn the end of the Angels' 2011 season.
I think I speak for us all when I say we knew that this day was coming. I do, though, take solace in the fact that the untimely death of this year's championship dream took so long to come to pass.
It seems like only yesterday that many of us were writing the Angels off before the season even began. We bemoaned the weak lineup. We questioned the lack of depth in the bullpen. We chastised Tony Reagins for all of his off-season bumblings. A division title or a playoff berth seemed like a pipe dream back then.
Yet here we stand today, just two games away from the end of the Major League Baseball regular season. I don't know about the rest of you, but I never would have guessed that Angels would have remained in contention for so long. Considering where we all started, this should be cause for celebration, so why does this official elimination hurt so much?
Perhaps it is because the fatal wounds that felled the Angels are still so fresh that I can't help but wonder what could have been. Even with as much as this roster overachieved, when I think about this year's Angels, the first memories that come to mind when I think of the 2011 Angels are all the one-run losses. 31 one-run losses, to be precise. And I didn't even need to look that number up. That is how much that narrative of the season is imprinted in my mind. I don't know if I will ever forget the Angels losing in extra innings via a wild pitch from Kevin Jepsen on an intentional walk. It will be a long time before I cease to have flashbacks of the Angels getting jobbed on a call at home against the Dodgers. Jordan Walden's epic blown save this last Sunday will haunt my dreams until the day I die. And the errors. Oh, all the errors down the stretch. Be they physical or mental, it felt like every single error the Angels made in September came back to bite them.
In a strange way though, I am glad that this season generated so much pain and frustration for Angel fans. Sometimes you need to lose out on something to be reminded of why exactly it is you cared in the first place. I, for one, am glad that Angel fans didn't just sit back and watch their fate unfold with nothing more than a shrug and some odd sense of fulfillment that this team wasn't as bad as it could have been. There was no collective back-patting session because the Angels future is looking bright thanks to the strong contributions of several first and second-year players.
No, we were mad. We were pissed. We demanded more. We were... alive! For a deeply flawed roster that had no business factoring into not one, but two, post-season races, we fans asked for an awful lot, and that's just fine. We've come to expect a contending squad every single year and we shouldn't be ashamed that we can't settle for less. To me, that proves that Angel fans are more than just the stereotypical fair-weather fans that Southern California residents are so often depicted as.
For that reason, I choose to remember this 2011 team fondly, even if it pains me to do so. In time that pain will lessen and the positive memories will take over, or at least I hope so. And maybe, if we are really lucky, the frustration of coming so close yet so far to tasting the post-season will serve as a driving force for the 2012 Angels to address their problems and make a legitimate run at a World Series title.
With that, I bid you a fond trip into the realm of of our memories, 2011 Angels season, and thanks in advance for lighting a fire under next season's team.
I know I said I'd be happy with the team finishing ten wins above .500, and I still should be. But less than two weeks ago fourteen wins over seemed like a lock. They had even taken two out of three from the A's and I was on a high.
"That'll show those east-coast bastards who annually devalue the Angels!"
But this is what happens to teams that are playing above their heads, with weaknesses they have managed to work around through, in the Angels' case, superior managing and a whole lot of luck. They fall to earth at some point. That is both the beauty and the despair of the long schedule in baseball. Even if they lose the final two games they will have that record I thought I'd be happy with. But going into Baltimore I deluded myself into thinking, not that the Angels could get into the playoffs, but that they might finish an extra-nice fourteen or fifteen wins over .500. That wouldn't have won them the West and God knows it should not have even put them within striking distance of the Wild Card. But it would have been nice. Next spring will we remember the record no one thought they should have or the record they could have had?
For our own sanity we should probably just remember the real-life record. But I hope management remembers what could have been and makes an attempt to act accordingly. No, I still don't advocate signing a bunch of Type-A free agents but I guess we have to come to the conclusion the Angels do not have the pitching in the system to fill or even patch the bullpen, for one thing. Anyway, there is still more baseball to play, if only to stick it in the eye of those east coast know-it-alls who all thought the team would finish under .500. IN YOUR FACE!
It could be worse, we could be fans of the Red Sox. Boy, we thought OUR team collapsed! This really is some kind of record. Didn't the Baseball Today people say the Sox could have a worse September than the '62 Mets? Are they still in line for that distinction? Ouch!