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You Never See It Coming

Can we talk about the Angels?

I’ll grant you that the entire AL West is essentially uncharted on my personal baseball map, but the Angels are the true terra incognita. This shouldn’t be — the Angels are essentially us, a mere year older thanks to the AL pushing to the head of the expansion line. But they must rival the Padres and Rangers for most years without a real identity, having cycled endlessly and fruitlessly through uniforms, logos and even names until recently, when they stopped after achieving a subtly amazing level of focus-grouped anonymity. Today’s Angels look like the Cardinals wearing spring training uniforms, and the franchise name might be the worst in all sports — “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” is a bizarre formulation that no commissioner worthy of the position would have ever allowed. It’s equal parts deeply cynical and laughably spineless, a blunderbuss of quarter-assed marketing that once ducked leaves you embarrassed for all involved, yourself included.

To be clear, I have nothing against Angels fans or the guys wearing their thoroughly unmemorable uniforms. The Angels are practically our brothers, I sympathize with the second team in town thing, and their park is no classic [1] but tries hard [2] — it’s gleefully overstuffed with Angeliana in a way I wish the Citi Field braintrust would copy. And hey, any sporting event that lets you watch Mike Trout [3] do what he does is worth the price of admission. But for all our inglorious and fitfully embarrassing history, the Mets have at least avoided spastic branding reboots — the shade of blue has wandered, the script briefly sprouted a tail and black jerseys ruled the land for a while, but a New Breed fan transported from 1962 to any other year in Mets history would immediately know what team she was rooting for. The Angels are in their fifth decade as a spastic branding reboot.

Which was honestly kind of perfect for the start of a strangely early West Coast swing, with the first game of course rumbling into extra innings and the New York night.

There are extra-inning games that keep you engaged, trying desperately to outguess the baseball gods but feeling certain that somehow you’re going to win. There are extra-inning games where you keep waiting for the snick of the guillotine and wondering why you haven’t heard it yet. And there are extra-inning games that turn into a sort of baseball Eastern Front, where eventually all you want is for it to be over.

This one was somewhere between the second and the third case — though before things got weird there was a rather entertaining and more or less conventional baseball game to watch. Josh Satin [4] got the start at first and delivered a two-run double, making me wonder if Terry Collins will soon declare that Lucas Duda [5] is the starting first baseman, Ike Davis [6] is the regular first baseman and Satin is the everyday first baseman. (After which he’ll look faintly amazed that the beat writers need this explained.) Travis d’Arnaud [7] cracked his first home run of the season, and while Dillon Gee [8] was so-so, the Mets’ bullpen was surprisingly capable, as it has been for a week or so. (When will we stop being surprised? I dunno. Maybe July.)

Plus you got the spectacle of Scott Boras in his suite behind home plate, like the Banquo’s Ghost of Embarrassingly Low Payrolls. Boras, I noticed, observed each of Ruben Tejada [9]‘s at-bats standing, so the center field camera got a group shot of Tejada, Angels catcher Chris Iannetta [10]/Hank Conger [11], spatially challenged umpire Manny Gonzalez and Boras. I swear to God Boras was doing that deliberately, perhaps in the hope that one of the New York tabloids would use a screen grab for a front page after some Tejada-related disaster. It was a little bit funny and a little bit irritating, and what I really wanted was for SNY to pixelate him, like in Japanese porn.

With the game becoming a stalemate, I kept waiting for Trout to beat us — and winding up startled when it didn’t happen. Carlos Torres [12] struck him out with two on and two out in the sixth. Kyle Farnsworth [13] rather wisely walked him with two on and two out in the eighth. And then Jeurys Familia [14] gave up a two-out single to him in the 11th, but it wasn’t fatal.

My second thought was that Albert Pujols [15] would beat us — Pujols who’s been through a lot in Los Angeles or Anaheim or whatever municipality is being catered to at the time, but to me remains a name to conjures terror and despair. But that didn’t happen either. Farnsworth got him to ground out to David Wright [16] with the bases loaded and Familia retired him with two on. Sorry, Albert.

(By the way, what would you have said a few years back if I told you there’d soon be a baseball player whom you’d be glad to see walked so a retread reliever could pitch to Albert Freaking Pujols?)

Anyway, Trout didn’t land the fatal blow and neither did Pujols and it was the 11th and the Mets had to load the bases with one out and so of course Familia hits Conger with a 2-2 pitch, shades of Daryl Boston [17] winding up with a ball in his shirt. Not what I saw coming, but you generally don’t see it coming in affairs like this one. They just end, with a mutter and a shrug [18] in the middle of the night.