You can hear it, even from the Bay Area.
You can hear the trash talk, the snide remarks, the fans' shouts of support for their winning team. You can hear the calls of this year being different, this one meaning more than the ones before... and none of it about the Lakers.
The Freeway Series has split SoCal again.
Good season or bad, no matter who's pitching, no matter who's injured, suspended, batting third or batting eighth, or even who's managing the Dodgers, the one constant for the last ten years or so is simply that the Angels have had the Dodgers' number.
Oh, one more constant: Angels fans never let Dodger fans forget about the domination—or that their World Series series title was exactly 14 years more recent than the Dodgers' last one.
It wasn't always this way.
I grew up in SoCal. The Angels and Dodgers? They were family. If you rooted for one, you rooted for the other. They were in different leagues, after all, and it was all SoCal. They even used to play in the same stadium. We called it Dodger Stadium, they called it Chavez Ravine. No big deal.
The Freeway Series was the annual final set of exhibition games, the last weekend before the season kicked off. It was a time to gather as baseball fans, crack a few jokes, and enjoy the only time our teams would play each other.
Things began to shift a little as the 90s moved on. Bud Selig instituted interleague play, beginning in 1997. The same year, the all-good-feelings name California Angels suddenly changed, to the much more regional Anaheim Angels. Now they weren't the state team--they were Orange County's team.
And suddenly, the games counted.
You could still root for both. You'd pick one over the other when they played, sure, but it never stung all that much. After all, you still got to see both teams play simultaneously! It was only four games a year; might as well enjoy them, right?
This was actually a fruitful period for the Dodgers, as far as winning went. In the first three years of interleague play, the Dodgers were 9-5 against their Orange County Rivals, who opened up by struggling against the senior circuit.
That didn't last long.
In 1999, the Dodgers had a problem they were most unfamiliar with: They needed a manager. The club had spent 44 years with two managers; now they'd gone through two more in two years. What were they supposed to do?
They went out-of-house, of course. And they got a man with a loose tie to Dodger history: Davey Johnson, who collected the last hit Sandy Koufax ever surrendered during the 1966 World Series.
But in doing so, they snubbed a relatively young manager and former Dodger catcher who was running the show in Triple-A Albuquerque. Groomed by Tommy Lasorda himself, he seemed like the ideal replacement, but the Dodgers wanted a big name, so they went and hired one.
The shrewd Angels front office was watching. The next year, following the firing of Terry Collins, they hired Mike Scoscia. And Dodger fans everywhere felt a pang as a family member left the organization. Scoscia was their guy. He'd helped lead the Dodgers to win a couple World Series. He was an icon.
And Scoscia knew Dodger baseball. He knew many of the Dodger players, too; he'd helped groom them, after all. It shows in the record, too. But what doesn't show up amidst all the statistics is that this hiring is where the still-young Dodger-Angel fan rivalry began—though it would take time to truly build.
In the 10 seasons Scoscia has run the Angels, the Angels have gone 35-22 against the Dodgers, and 104-72 against the National League (including the 2002 World Series). He knows how to beat the NL, and he and his team do it with frightening regularity. In 2009, the Angels are 6-1 in interleague play, despite being only four games over .500 for the season. By the end of the regular season in 2002, after three years of Scoscia, the Angels were back to break-even against their Angeleno rivals, at 16-16. The Angels won the wild card that year; the Dodgers just missed the NL Wild Card, despite winning 92 games.
The playing field hasn't been even since.
We all know the story of that postseason. The Angels began by dethroning the reigning AL champion Yankees in the opening round, then sent the Twins home in five games for their first AL Pennant. And in the World Series, after a Buckner-esque eighth inning error by superstar Barry Bonds in Game Six and a gem from rookie John Lackey (plus a three-run homer from quintessential Angel Garret Anderson) in Game Seven, the Angels came roaring back to upset the loathsome Giants for their first World Series championship..
Dodger fans rejoiced. The hated Giants had almost ruined the year and brought a wrecking ball to our pride for the next-who-knew-how-long, and the Angels had swooped down and saved us. And they did it with a Dodger at the helm! Glorious!
Dodgers fans celebrated with their Angel friends. Angels fans celebrated with their Dodger friends. And then came 2003.
Angels fans had a new swagger. They gloated. They flashed their World Series everywhere they went. They rubbed everyone's noses in it, even their Dodger pals. And finally, it began to rub Dodger fans' fragile pride the wrong way.
Dodger fans wanted their team to prove they could slay this new Angel dragon. Their SoCal supremacy was threatened; after all, the Padres had gone to the World Series and been destroyed. The Dodgers were the only team in the region to have gone into the fire and survived... until the Angels did it. For the first time, the Dodgers' role as the preeminent team in the region was at stake.
They had no idea their claim to Los Angeles itself was in danger.
In 2005, still-new Angels owner Arte Moreno decided that Anaheim was no longer a good enough place for his team to play. He didn't want Disney's town on his jerseys anymore. He wanted L.A. So he re-named the Angels for a city over 40 miles away, and successfully pissed off two fan bases at once—and took the final step to create a new and heated rivalry.
Dodgers fans were livid. How dare the Angels? Los Angeles was ours. Had been since '58. Sure, the Angels had played there, too, from '61 to '64, but then they left. They abandoned this town to us. How dare Arte Moreno tread on our turf? We are the legitimate team of the largest city on the West Coast! No one else gets LA! No one!
Angels fans were incensed. Don't lump us in with those bums! We're winners, and we don't play anywhere near that plastic town to the north. This is Orange County! The Angels are an Orange County team for Orange County fans. We don't need LA! Smart SoCal fans root for this team anyhow. If you don't know where the stadium is, you don't deserve to be a fan, much less our owner.
And suddenly, each team's fans knew exactly what the other side thought of their town, of their turf. Of them. A firm line had been drawn in the sand. You're either with the Dodgers... or the Angels. Not both. Not anymore.
You want more evidence? In five seasons, I've never heard an Angel fan call the present-day team the L.A. Angels.
Which brings us to today.
As usual, the Dodgers have some sort of mental block against the Angels—not to mention the rest of the American League. Dem Bums are running around with the best record in baseball, and the Angels struggled with injuries out of the gate before righting the ship recently. And yet, the Angels have already swiped two of three from the Dodgers--at Dodger Stadium, no less.
And now, the Dodgers head for Angel turf. They'll bring with them starts from Chad Billingsley on Friday and Clayton Kershaw on Sunday, depending on what happens tonight with the Oakland game.
Joe Torre will have to consult his magic eight-ball to come up with a pitcher for Saturday, with both Stults and Milton injured and MacDonald ineffective with the big club. To counter, the Angels will probably be sending Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, and John Lackey to the mound in some order.
Can the Dodgers break even on the season against their AL rivals? Or will Scoscia continue not only his domination of the Dodgers, but of Joe Torre as well?
Series Prediction: The usual. Angels take two of three, and one of them hinges on Scoscia out-thinking Torre.