MLB Opening Week: Scioscia's Divine Intervention Calms Angels Faithful
The first week of the 2011 Major League Baseball season is well underway. The first series are in the books, and with them, fans across the country are showing their first signs of panic.
Out in Anaheim, things are no different. At least for the fans.
Optimists draw parallels to the 2002 season, when the Angels lost 14 of their first 20 games before roaring back to a 99-win season and the franchise's first World Series Championship.
Pessimists fear the similarities with last season, when a solid Opening Day victory lead to three straight losses to the Minnesota Twins, setting the tone for a frustrating year in every aspect.
The realists, however, understand that although the start hasn't been pretty, no baseball season was ever won or lost before tax day. Realists can appreciate that while changes may need to be made, the year is far from over.
Realists like Mike Scioscia.
The Angels skipper, regarded as one of the game's best, is typically a slow mover when it comes to making roster moves. Particularly this early in the season, and especially when it involves an emotional response to painful losses.
But even Scioscia couldn't sit idly by and watch his relievers continue to destroy the good work done by the offense and starting pitching.
Who will finish the season as the Angels' closer?
After suffering through their team's first losing season in seven years, he watched his bullpen fritter away three games in what could have easily been a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals.
In all three losses, the Royals scored the go-ahead run in their final at-bat. Twice, the bullpen surrendered walk-off home runs, breaking both fans' hearts and coaches' patience.
Now, that's not to say Angel batters couldn't improve, and Scott Kazmir certainly didn't do himself any favors by giving up five runs in less than two innings.
What it does suggest is things haven't changed for some Angels from last season, and that is unacceptable in Scioscia's eyes.
He immediately dropped a long-struggling Fernando Rodney from the closer's role, inserted young fireballer Jordan Walden in his place, and put Kazmir on notice. One more start like he had on Sunday, and the former ace will find himself bounced from the starting rotation.
These changes are far from the panicked, knee-jerk reactions some fans have had already. They are the measured, calculated, and perfectly executed plans of a savvy dugout politician.
Scioscia knows this Angels roster has its work cut out for it in the AL West. But he is not going to let his boys go down without a fight.
Rodney and Kazmir are pitching like they're in competition to see who can put the most men on base in the fewest innings. Allowing that to continue would be as devastating to players' morale as it would be to their win-loss record.
Need proof? One day after Scioscia's intervention, the Angels cruised to a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, capped off by a 1-2-3 ninth inning from new closer Walden.
The last time that happened, Francisco Rodriguez was still on good terms with his father-in-law.
It's time to relax, Angels fans. It's April. There are 157 more days and nights of emotional anguish ahead. And Mike Scioscia will be there to see us through it all.
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