Tag Archives: thehalosblog

How Far We’ve Come

angels clinch

As you know, the Angels punched their postseason ticket Monday night thanks to an 11-0 walloping of the Texas Rangers.

This marks the 3rd consecutive year and 5th time in the last 6 seasons that the Angels have won the American League West division.

It has been the Angels’ division to run away with the past few years, mixed in with moderate competition from Oakland, Texas, and Seattle… but there never had been any doubt that the Angels were the clear-cut team to beat in the AL West.

This year started off the same way, but just 3 days and a handful of hours into the season… everything changed.

The Angels organization was rocked after receiving news of the sudden and unsuspected passing of young pitcher Nick Adenhart, a victim of a deadly drunk driving accident that killed 2 others in the car he was in and internally decapitated another.

The Angels went into a tailspin.

They started the season at 6-11, their worst start to a season in 7 years.

Vladimir Guerrero clearly wasn’t his normal slugging himself.

The Angels were without all-star starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana to begin the season.

Signs were beginning to point to the Angels having a long and disappointing season ahead of them.

Being the heavy favorites to win the AL West at the beginning of the year, the Angels had plenty of expectations heading into the ’09 campaign.

But being dealt an indescribable loss of a fellow teammate 3 games into the season just threw any expectations out the window.

Baseball became irrelevant.

It went from an everyday job to an afterthought.

It opened the eyes of many to what was really important in life… family.

Nick Adenhart was buried in his hometown of Williamsport, Maryland on April 17th, a service that drew a crowd of over 1,500 people, all remembering the fallen 22-year-old.

It was a moment that turned the surreal into the real.

The Angels had lost a teammate, but more importantly, the Adenhart family had lost a son.

From that point forward, the Angels were no longer a team.

They were no longer an organization.

They were a family.

A family that banded together, embodied resiliency, and rose above all obstacles to attain a common goal.

The 2009 Angels personify resilience.

Not only did they have to rise above the tragedy of Nick Adenhart to begin the season, but they also had to fill the voids of Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter being injured and missing a month’s worse of time simultaneously midway through the season (with Juan Rivera missing a week and half’s play during that time as well).

Did the Angels throw in the towel and cave in?

No way, no how.

The Angels would win 17 of 20 games with Vlad and Torii out of the lineup, a streak that spoke volumes of the depth and perseverance of the Angels’ organization as a whole.

It also spoke volumes of their manager, Mike Scioscia; the most level-headed manager in all of baseball who regardless of any scenario or situation, would always keep calm and remain on an even-keel.

The 2002 Angels will forever be remembered as the Comeback Kids.

But the 2009 Angels never quit. They had every reason in the world to quit, and no one could blame them for doing so.

They could have packed it up, threw in the towel, and called the ’09 season a wash.

I couldn’t have blamed them if they did. Not after a blow like that to the organization, no way I could even think of blaming them.

But despite all the adversity, they didn’t give up. Not once.

This is a team of heart.

This is a team of perseverance.

This is a team of champions.

From tragedy to triumph, regardless of how the Angels do this postseason, they’ve won it all in my mind.

Tonight, when I saw the entire team walk out to the image of Nick Adenhart on the center field wall (http://www.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=6901489 for video of that moment)… I realized why I’m an Angel fan.

The reason?

Because this team is a family… and I feel like I am a part of that family.

And family… is loved.

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From Scapegoat to Unsung Hero

aybar hero

Although the Angels’ 2008 season ended on a walk-off hit by the Red Sox, many remember it ending with Erick Aybar at the plate.

With 1 out and a pinch-runner Reggie Willits on 3rd, Mike Scioscia opted to win or lose by doing what they had done all year… play Angel baseball.

A suicide squeeze was the call, but when the pitch ran up inside on Aybar and he couldn’t get the bat on the ball, Willits, like the rest of the team, was done for. You could feel the momentum shift away from the Angels, it was that monumental. Pack it up. Head home. Season over.

One could only imagine what had gone through Aybar’s head on that flight home, and for the entire offseason for that matter. Many people (including myself) blamed Aybar for ending the Angels’ postseason run. Many people blamed Mike Scioscia for putting on a high-risk play in such a crucial situation.

When a suicide squeeze is called, the manager puts the absolute utmost confidence in the batter to at least hit the ball into the field of play, because if not, the runner is a sitting duck, and the team squanders a potentially vital run-scoring opportunity.

But, as the great Mark McGwire once said, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” It’s time to recognize what’s been going on in the present day.

Since day 1 of  being part of the Angels’ system (just like that fateful at-bat in Boston), the club had invested the utmost of confidence and placed immensely high hopes in this “Aybar kid”. He’s quick, he’s a slap-hitter, his range in the field is jaw-dropping, he’s acrobatic, you name it. Over his minor league career, Aybar hit at an impressive .312 mark. When he was 20 years old, he stole 51 bases over the course of his season in Advanced-A ball.

Management had touted Aybar as a player where “the sky’s the limit” for him in terms of potential and the type of player he could grow to be.

In 2007, he hit .237.

In 2008, he hit .277.

An improvement, yes, but me like plenty of other Angel fans out there were missing something. If this kid is supposed to be “so good”, don’t you think he could lay a suicide squeeze down? You’d think. This guy’s our future everyday shortstop? Yeah right.

As you can tell, I was not impressed with Aybar whatsoever since he had been called up to the Angels’ big league squad. I had seen flashes of him being who the Angels hyped him up to be, but he was way too streaky. He’d go on a tear for a few games with the bat, then go ice cold for a week. Consistency was nonexistent.

Then 2009 rolled around.

A redemption year for Aybar, if you will. And a year where I finally understand why the Angels’ front office loved this kid so much.

To start the season, I was hoping they would give the starting shortstop job to Maicer Izturis, a guy who was consistent, clutch, and more proven to-date. But Aybar had put forth a better spring training than Mighty Maicer, and was the Opening Day shortstop for the Halos.

Erick would hit at a disappointing .245 mark over the course of the opening month, which had me somewhat furious why Mike Scioscia kept putting him in the lineup.

He would hit .303 during the month of May, which made me a tad bit happier. His season average was just a shade under .280 after 2 months of play… not great, but not horrible either.

June gloom hit Aybar pretty hard as he batted a mere .256 during June, but then Aybar would turn on the jets.

EA had an absolutely unreal month of July. So good in fact that he had the highest batting average of every starting position player in the entire league over the course of the month.

What did he hit, you ask?

.414. Let that soak in for a moment, do a double take if you need to, you’re reading it correctly.

36 hits in 87 at-bats, 17 runs scored, 18 RBI, a homer, 2 triples, and 6 doubles. All while playing exceptional defense in the field.

In a double-header at Kansas City, Aybar collected 7 hits (yeah… 7 hits in one day!) by going 7-for-9 with 5 runs scored! I don’t know if you could draw up a more successful day of baseball for one player.

His batting average has dipped below .300 once since July 19th (September 4th’s game with the Mariners capped off an 0-for-20 slide… which brought his average to .299).

On the season he’s hitting .306 with 5 homers, 53 RBI, 62 runs scored, 21 doubles, and 5 triples, all career bests. He’s also stolen 13 bases and posted a .350 on-base percentage, also his best marks in his young career.

But as much as he’s been letting his bat do the talking, his work at shortstop has been nothing short of sensational.

Entering 2009, Aybar had possessed unbelievable range in the field, meaning he could cover so much ground that he would almost always get a glove on a ball hit in his general area. He has a cannon for an arm despite being just 5’10” and 170 pounds. But he had always been erratic. For every highlight reel play that he’d make, he would counter by messing up the simplest of grounders.

But as in almost every aspect of Aybar’s game, 2009 would be a new season.

This year has proven to be a “make a name for myself” type of year for Aybar. He would routinely make plays that even the best of shortstops could only dream of making. He’s been making appearances on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day feature seemingly every other day.

At this juncture, I don’t think I could be any happier for Erick.

Nearly 11 months after a potentially career-defining blunder at the ripe age 0f 24, he’s helping erase Angel fans’ unforgettable memory of his ALDS Game 4 mishap by playing the best ball of his career.

And although 2009 has been a year that has shown me a lot about individual players (Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales, Aybar, Juan Rivera just to name a few), but more about what this team is really made of.

This team is made of competitors. This team is made of positive influences. This team is made of winners.

This team… is a team of destiny.

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Kazmir Impressing After First 2 Starts

kazmir

Before the waiver deadline last month, the Angels were hoping to find an arm somewhere in the MLB that could help solidify a struggling Angels rotation.

Scott Kazmir, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, turned out to be that guy, despite having a rough year up until the time of him changing scenery.

Don’t look too deeply into the new hurler’s 0-1 record with the Angels after 2 starts, the record misleads Kazmir’s contributions completely.

He’s faced one of the American League’s best pitchers and a potential Cy Young award-winner in Félix Hernández in both of his starts (14-5 record, 2.61 ERA), and has received virtually no run support in return (offense has produced 3 total runs in his 2 starts).

Here are Kaz’s numbers for his first two starts in Halo red:

September 2nd @ Seattle – 6.1 innings/3 hits/2 runs (1 earned)/1 walk/8 strikeouts (loss – 3-0 final)

September 8th vs. Seattle – 7 innings/3 hits/1 earned run/2 walks/4 strikeouts (no decision – 3-2 final)

His numbers combined through his first 2 starts are:

13 1/3 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 12 strikeouts

He has now gone 6 or more innings in 10 of his last 11 starts.

He has allowed 1 earned run in each of his last 3 starts (best streak of the season).

Despite a rough first few months for the 25-year-old Kazmir, he’s apparently saved his best baseball for when it matters most… crunch time.

It looks like Kazmir seems rejuvenated to be pitching with a contender since the Rays have fallen off in the past few weeks, and you have to love the composure he brought in his first start.

After an error, a walk, and a hit batter (Kazmir’s first 3 batters he faced as an Angel), it seemed like the Angels made an awful decision to bring him in… at first glance.

How would he respond?

3 straight strikeouts to end the inning. No runs. No damage done. Inning over. Whew!

And he’s been sensational ever since. His walk-to-strikeout ratio has been outstanding. His control has been great. And he seems to have garnered a new sense of self-confidence that he hasn’t had since the Rays made their improbable run to the World Series just a year ago.

For better or worse, pitching is contagious. For a decent portion of the year, pitching has been unfavorably contagious for the Angels’ rotation as well as their bullpen.

Now that September has rolled around, and Kazmir has injected a little bit of new life into this Halo rotation, I’m hoping his positive starts can continue to influence Jered Weaver (14 wins entering tonight’s start), Joe Saunders (3 straight wins), John Lackey (17 innings, 1 earned run in last 2 starts), and most importantly Ervin Santana (5 straight starts of 3 or fewer earned runs until his last start).

Hopefully, the best from this Angels rotation is yet to come.

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Lackey Notches 100th Career Win

lackey 100

It seems like the milestones have come pouring in for Angels players this year.

Vladdy hits home run #400 of his career.

Vlad and Figgy get their 1,000th career hits in their Angels careers.

Bobby Abreu hits home run #250 and picks up career hit #2,000.

The list goes on.

This time, it wasn’t a positional player reaching a noteworthy milestone.

Staff ace John Lackey picked up his 100th career win on Sunday vs. Oakland in typical John Lackey fashion. He fired 8 innings of 1-run ball (the run he allowed was also unearned), scattering 5 hits and punching out 6 Oakland batters in a 9-1 rout in the Angels’ favor.

Lackey became only the 5th pitcher to garner 100 wins with the Angels organization, joining the likes of Chuck Finley, Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, and Mike Witt… that’s some pretty good company right there.

Lackey was drafted in the 2nd round back in the 1999 MLB Draft by the Angels out of Grayson County College in Denison, Texas, a team that Lackey helped win the Junior College World Series that same year.

Angel fans remember John Lackey being the young man who Mike Scioscia controversially made the Game 7 starter of the 2002 World Series, at the time he had just turned 24 years of age.

“Big John” threw 5 innings of 1 run ball (like his 100th win, the run was also unearned), helping catapult the Angels to their first World Championship in franchise history. Lackey became the first rookie pitcher to win a World Series Game 7 since Babe Adams of the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates (roughly 93 years if you’re counting, give or take a few days).

The two seasons following the ’02 championship run would be difficult for Lackey. He was on the losing ended 29 times during the course of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, with ERAs of 4.63 and 4.67 respectively.

But 2005 would be Lackey’s turning point in his career. He went 14-5 with a career-high 199 strikeouts on the year, while getting his ERA to a respectable 3.45 mark.

He would continue to develop into a staff ace through 2006, and 2007 would be Lackey’s best season on the bump. He would compile a 19-9 record with a fantastic ERA of 3.01. He’d throw a career-high 224 innings and strike out a total of 179 batters and walk a then-career best 52. Lackey would finish 3rd in AL Cy Young voting.

The ’08 and ’09 seasons each started with injury troubles for Lackey, but he would remain (and continues to remain) a vital piece to the Angels’ rotation and deep playoff run aspirations.

Congratulations, John. Don’t stop now! (… oh, and even though your contract is up after this year, how about you come on back and keep winning more games!)

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Where is the Love?

kendry point

Entering this year, the departure of Mark Teixeira probably had a decent amount of Angel fans worried.

By Teixeira leaving Anaheim to sign a lucrative contract with the New York Yankees, and Casey Kotchman being shipped to Atlanta in exchange for Teixeira at the trade deadline in 2008, it opened the door for a capable, but unproven Kendry Morales to be tabbed as the Angels’ everyday first baseman.

Questions like, “can our offense possibly get any worse?”, “can we ever recover from Tex leaving us?” and maybe even, “who the heck is this Kendry Morales guy?” arose.

Entering the 2009 season, Morales had played in 127 games over the course of 3 seasons, while posting a .249 batting average to go along with 12 home runs.

Angel fans got a glimpse of what the big switch-hitting Cuban talent could do in Game 4 of last year’s ALDS against the Boston Red Sox when he hit a pinch-hit double off the Green Monster to start of the 9th inning in a 2-2 ballgame (which would end in Erick Aybar botching a suicide squeeze… you know what happens from there).

Kendry picked up where he left off with that at-bat, and has been absolutely scorching the ball throughout the entire 2009 campaign, which brings me to ask the following question, “where is the love?”

At this point, all you hear on TV or read about is “Joe Mauer or Mark Teixeira for the AL MVP? Who will it be?” and that’s it. No Morales. Not a hint that he’s even in the running for the MVP award. Nothing at all.

No disrespect to Joe Mauer, who’s put together an absolutely remarkable season (league-best .367 average and 1.044 OPS marks), and Tex who has definitely put up the numbers that Yankee fans have envisioned him doing (32 home runs, 101 RBI after Sunday’s game).

But what more do you want the guy to do? It’s hard to say that he’s been struggling at any point of this season.

He put together a career-best 20-game hit streak earlier this year. He had a 5-for-5 night a couple games back where he blasted 2 homers and drove in 6 runs. You think that would put him on the map? Nope, still no love for KMo.

Entering Sunday, KMo’s numbers look like this: a .309 batting average, 29 home runs, 91 RBI, 70 runs scored, 34 doubles, a .587 slugging percentage, and on defense (the big question mark regarding his game entering this season) he’s only had 6 errors (.994 fielding percentage).

Let’s stack those numbers up against the rest of the American League entering Sunday’s games.

His .309 batting average ties him for the 21st-best mark in the American League.

His 29 home runs ties him with Justin Morneau of the Twins and Jason Bay of the Red Sox for 5th most in the AL.

His 91 RBI is also 5th most in the AL.

His .939 OPS (on-base + slugging percentages) is the 5th highest in the AL.

His .585 slugging percentage is 2nd best.

His 65 extra-base hits gave him the 2nd most as well.

He’s up near the top for most of the power categories and it’s a shame how all of his accomplishments this year are somehow continuing to go under the radar.

Let’s get real here, Joe Mauer may just be the best player in baseball not named Albert Pujols. Not in a long, long time has a catcher come along and been able to hit like Mauer has in his young career (.326 career average, 2-time AL batting champion)… oh, and he’s only 26 years old. The sky’s the limit for this kid, and the MLB would be stupid to not begin to advertise the kid some more. He’s a player who just plays baseball the way it should be played, has no strings attached, and is easily likeable… that is, unless he’s torching your team that day, but that’s another story. He’s had an unreal year (.367 average, .435 OBP, 25 homers, 79 RBI), but his team isn’t even winning the weakest division in baseball. It just leads to the age-old argument: does it go to the best player on the best team or the league’s best player on a team that may not even make the playoffs?

Mark Teixeira has had an outstanding year following an early season slump that left many Yankee fans restless. Tex is too good of a player to stay down for that long, though, and I think all baseball fans know what kind of player he has been over the past 6 years. Tex leads the AL in RBI with 101, and his 32 home runs ranks 2nd behind Carlos Peña of the Tampa Bay Rays (37 homers). The two-time Gold Glove award winner has been exceptional at 1st base game after game for the Bronx Bombers, no surprise there. But it just seems that picking Teixeira would be the “sexy pick.” Pick the guy with the gaudiest numbers, yeah he deserves it. Not to take away from the season that Tex has been having, but if you were batting behind Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, with Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui among others hitting behind you, I’d sure hope you’re putting up numbers like that.

It’s almost as if it’s a David vs. Goliath type of situation. The Goliaths in Teixeira and Mauer are dwarfing Morales to the point where he may not even get MVP recognition by the media.

As much as I’m lobbying for Kendry to get his fair share of recognition, I truly don’t believe he’ll win the MVP award. I think Joe Mauer’s 100% got it in the bag. With the type of year he’s been having, I say how can you not vote for him? All I’m asking is that the baseball world gives KMo the respect he deserves for the season he’s been having, it is undoubtedly a season worth recognizing… especially for a guy in his first full year as an everyday player. Even 2006 MVP award-winner Justin Morneau of the Twins deserves some MVP race consideration with the year he’s been having as well.

But, hey baseball writers, all I’m asking is that you throw him a few votes, just a few! Don’t overlook our KMo!

To add to it, while writing this article, Morales hit a 3-run bomb with 2 strikes and 2 outs to put the Angels comfortably ahead 8-1 against the visiting Oakland Athletics. The Halos would go on to win today 9-1. Is that something that we haven’t seen from him this year? Nope, that’s what we’ve seen him do time and time again.

Maybe a little love shown now that he got that 30th home run? Maybe… just maybe.

As I had written back in the beginning of May in “(So Far) the Angels Look Like They Made the Right Moves“, “The future has a lot in store for KMo, and I truly believe that he could become one of the most productive offensive first baseman in the game in only a matter of years…. This kid’s gonna be something special, make no mistake about it.”

I can firmly say that I continue to stand behind those statements nearly 4 months later.

My final question that I’m asking to baseball writers is this: where would the team be if you removed that player from the lineup?

The Yankees would still be winning thanks to having 6 or more All-Stars in their lineup everyday.

The Twins would still not be leading their division.

The Angels would be nowhere near where they are today with the 2nd-best record in baseball.

That’s all I have to say.

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Angels Acquire Scott Kazmir From Tampa Bay

scott kazmir

Seeing that the Angels had lost 6 of their last 8 games entering Friday night’s contest with the Oakland Athletics, GM Tony Reagins felt that the Halos needed to shake it up a bit.

Starting pitching has been the Angels’ weak link of late, and if the Halos couldn’t pull anybody up from within, then a deal had to be made.

Friday night, that deal was made.

The Angels looked to the American League East division for hurlers who had cleared waivers, and found that Tampa Bay Rays’ lefty Scott Kazmir had cleared waivers, which prompted the front office to pull the trigger on landing a quality arm.

The Halos were able to bring in Kazmir in exchange for minor league pitching prospect Alex Torres, infielder Matt Sweeney, and right-hander Jordan Walden.

The 25-year-old Kazmir, who was a 1st round draft pick (#15 overall) of the New York Mets back in 2004, was shipped to the Rays with Joselo Diaz (back when they were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) in 2006 in exchange for pitchers Victor Zambrano and Bartolomé Fortunado.

In 2006, Kazmir was tabbed as the Opening Day starter for Tampa Bay, becoming the youngest Opening Day starter (22 years, 2 months, 10 days old) since Dwight Gooden was the starter for the New York Mets in the 1986 opener.

Kazmir led the American League in strikeouts in 2007 with 239 punchouts.

In his Tampa Bay career, Kazmir compiled a respectable 55-45 record to go along with a 3.92 ERA (prior to an injury-plagued 2009 season, he had an ERA of 3.50 or lower in each of the 3 previous seasons).

At one point during his high school career, Kazmir threw 4 consecutive no-hitters (yes, that’s right, 4 straight no-hitters). After allowing a hit in his bid for his 5th no-hitter, he’d finish the game, and then throw 2 more no-hitters in his next 2 starts (add it all up, and you get 6 no-hitters in a span of 7 outings… that’s pretty good if you ask me).

In his senior year of high school, Kazmir set a Texas high school record formerly set by current Red Sox ace Josh Beckett by striking out an incredible 175 batters in 75 innings… that’s over 2 batters per inning (about 2.33 per inning to be exact)! He verbally committed to the University of Texas, a college baseball powerhouse before opting to go to the pros.

Kazmir was elected to the American League All-Star in both 2006 and 2008 (helped lead Rays to World Series in ’08).

He is in the 1st year of a 3-year deal, so this is no Mark Teixeira 1 1/2 month rental that we came to see last year, folks.

As long as he can be a dependable middle-of-the-rotation guy, I don’t think there’s anything else that we as Angel fans can ask of him. He was not brought in to be any “savior” of sorts, but to be a quality arm to compliment the rest of the Angels’ struggling yet promising rotation (he’s even been rumored to have been brought in as a bullpen arm, but I’d confidently put my money on him having a spot in the starting rotation).

Not only do I welcome the addition of Kazmir as a fantastic short-term addition, but to have him inked for the 2 following years as well seems like a steal of a deal at the present time… I mean he’s only 25, he’s yet to even hit his prime!

For the Rays, it gives them salary cap relief for the upcoming few years, but for the Angels it guarantees them of a pitcher that they know will be under their control for the next couple of seasons (considering John Lackey will get plenty of money thrown at him this offseason due to his contract being up following the end of this season).

Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what Mr. Kazmir can do for the Halos, so let’s all welcome in the newest member of the Los Angeles Angels… welcome aboard Scott!

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Vladdy Gets 1000th Hit in Angel Career

vladdy 1000

In the 5th inning of August 26th’s matchup with the Detroit Tigers in Anaheim, Vladimir Guerrero recorded his 1,000th hit during his nearly 6-year tenure as an Angel.

He becomes the 8th player in club history to have at least 1,000 hits while wearing an Angel uniform.

The 34-year-old free-swinger joins the likes of Garret Anderson (2,368 hits), Tim Salmon (1,624), Brian Downing (1,588), Darin Erstad (1,505), Jim Fregosi (1,408), Bobby Grich (1,109) and Chone Figgins (1,009) who actually reached the mark just 10 days before the Big Daddy notched the Halo millenium hit mark.

Signing with the Angels in 2004 after 8 years with the Montreal Expos, it took Vlad not even 6 years to reach 1,000 hits. 813 games to be exact, which equates to just barely over 5 full seasons of play (that’s averaging just about 200 hits per “full 162 game season”). Pretty impressive stuff, Vladdy.

This isn’t the first big milestone of this year for the Big Daddy. He blasted his 400th career home run back on August 10th at the Big A, almost assuring his career as being officially Hall of Fame-worthy.

He joined an exclusive club by becoming only the 6th player in MLB history to record 400 home runs over the course of his career while maintaining a batting average of .320 or better.

Who else is in that club you may ask?

How about some of the all-time greats.

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, and Stan Musial.

Wow. Now that’s some company.

He also joins Hall of Famer Dave Winfield as the only other MLB player to have 1,000 hits in the American and National Leagues.

We all know the great career he’s had, but let’s just reflect on what he’s done in Halo red.

In his 6th season with the Angels, not only has he garnered up an MVP award (2004), but he’s also currently posted 1,000 hits, a .321 batting average, 522 runs scored, 189 doubles, 162 home runs, and 598 RBI. Pretty good for not even a 6-year stint with a ballclub.

Hats off again, Big Daddy Vladdy, you never cease to amaze baseball fans everywhere.

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