The First Time the Angels Played the Rays

…was back in 1998 when David Letterman still hosted The Late Show and every kid wanted a Game Boy for his or her birthday.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, as they were known back then, came to visit the Big A on Thursday, April 16th for a four game series.  At this early point in the season, the expansion Devil Rays, at 7-5, had a better record than the established Angels, at 6-6.

The Devil Rays’ lineup was interesting.  Here are batters one through five.  You may recognize a couple names with ties to the Angels.

Quinton McCrackin CF
Dave Martinez RF
Wade Boggs 3B
Fred McGriff 1B
Paul Sorrento DH

The starting pitcher for the Angels that night was “Black” Jack McDowell, and he sort of had a quality start.  When he left the game after he finished off the top of the sixth, he had compiled an impressive seven strikeouts, but the score was 4-1 in Tampa Bay’s favor.

The Angels got two runs back in the bottom of the inning, however, when Garret Anderson came up to the plate with the bases loaded and hit . . . a ground ball to second baseman Miguel Cairo.  It looked like the grounder was going to result in an inning ending double play, but Cairo accidentally threw the ball into left field and allowed two Angel runners to cross the plate.

Based on the cumulative memories puddled somewhere in my brain, it sure seemed like half of GA’s plate appearances ended up as a ground ball to the second baseman.

By the ninth inning, the Angels were down 6-4.  Troy Percival shutdown the Devil Rays in the top of the ninth by getting two strikeouts and a ground out and gave his offense a chance to comeback.

It was then up to the Angel hitters to work some magic in the bottom of the frame.  Roberto Hernandez was pitching for the Devil Rays and gave up a single to the first batter he faced, Matt Walbeck.  Manager Terry Collins then had Frank Bolick (who?) pinch hit for Carlos Garcia (again, who?), and Bolick drew a walk.  Gary Disarcina bunted the two runners into scoring position, and then Darin Erstad drew the second walk of the inning to load the bases.

The next batter was Dave Hollins, and he hit a ground ball to the shortstop who threw to second for the force out there, but an Angel run scored, making the game 6-5 in Tampa Bay’s favor.  The great Tim Salmon was up next.  I remember Salmon as a slow starter, but he was hitting .283 at this point in the season and had a single and three walks earlier in this game.  In this crucial at bat, however, the King Fish hit one of Hernandez’s offerings onto the ground for a 6-3 assist & putout to end the game.

Lead off hitter Erstad (playing first base) had a good game for the Angels, mashing a double and a triple while also working a walk.  Unfortunately, he didn’t score a single run.  Also unfortunate was the speedy Jim Edmonds hitting into two double plays that night.

The Devil Rays finished in last place that year, winning only 63 games and keeping the Angels’ expansion team record of 70 wins intact. 

The Angels won 85 games in 1998 and finished in second place, just three games behind Texas for the divisional pennant, so it’s a shame the Halos didn’t win this first ever meeting with the Devil Rays and pick up just two more victories somewhere along the way.  Every game matters, right?

Even though the only player the Devil Rays selected from the Angels in the expansion draft, pitcher Dennis Springer, didn’t play in this game, there are several interesting Angel-Devil Ray connections.

One is Dave Martinez.  After his playing days were over, he coached first base for Joe Maddon’s 2007 Tampa Bay team and then became the bench coach the year after that.  Martinez even followed Maddon over to Chicago to continue in the role of bench coach and helped the Cubbies win the World Series. 

Slugger Paul Sorrento was drafted by the Angels in 1986, but was traded away two years later as part of a package that moved Bert Blyleven over to the Angels.  Then Sorrento landed a job as the hitting coach for the Angels’ minor league affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers, in 2012.  In an emergency move, he was pulled up to the big league club to become the Angels’ assistant hitting coach after Don Baylor unexpectedly broke his femur.

Devil Ray closer Roberto Hernandez had also been drafted by the Angels in 1986 and then traded away by the Angels.  He was sent over to the White Sox for a promising Triple-A outfielder named Mark Davis who had a cumulative .360 OBP and 77 stolen bases in the two seasons prior to the trade.  Hernandez became a two-time All-Star who finished his career with 326 saves while Davis played in just three major league games.

And then there was Esteban Yan who faced four batters in this game recording three outs and yielding one of the Salmon walks.  Yan later joined the Angels, pitching out of the bullpen for the Halos in 2005 and 2006.

With Shohei Ohtani primed to take over as the best hitting pitcher the Angels have ever had, I wondered about which Angel pitcher he will be replacing.  I have always heard that former Angel hurler Ken Brett, Hall of Famer George’s older brother, was a good hitter for a pitcher, and he did hit .262 over 327 National League at bats, but his two years with the Angels came when the DH was in use, so he never had a plate appearance as an Angel.

After surfing around the baseball-reference data tables, I discovered that the best batting average in a season for an Angel pitcher is Jerry Casale’s .500 in 1961 when he went 6-for-12.  In 1963, Ken McBride hit six doubles, the high mark for an Angel pitcher that was later tied by Clyde Wright in 1972.  The left-handed Wright also holds the record for the most RBI in a season by a pitcher with 13. 

Wright would get my vote for the best hitting pitcher in Angel history.  His OBP was only .213, but with 378 at bats, he had 17 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs, and 32 RBI, all career highs for a Halo hurler.

Here’s an interesting side note about Wright.  After his MLB career was over, he signed with the Yomiuri Giants in 1976 and hit a home run in Game Five of the Nippon Series (his teammate Sadaharu Oh hit two homers in the series).  On the pitching end of things, Wright went 1-2 as a starter, and the Giants lost the series in seven games.

And lastly, on the topic of Angel pitchers and offensive prowess, an honorable mention needs to go out to Ted Bowsfield (LAA 1961-2) who was used as a pinch runner 15 times and scored a run in four of those appearances.

The Mike Trout AL West Home Run King Tracker.  With his home run in Saturday’s win at Seattle, Mike Trout tied Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez for the ninth most home runs ever by an AL West player.  It took the Mariner legend 18 years to get to 309. Here is the official top ten list:

1. Ken Griffey, Jr. (SEA) 417
2. Juan Gonzalez (TEX) 372
3. Mark McGwire (OAK) 363
4. Reggie Jackson (OAK/CAL) 362
5. Alex Rodriguez (SEA/TEX) 345
6. Rafael Palmeiro (TEX) 321
7. Nelson Cruz (TEX/SEA) 320
8. George Brett (KCR) 317
9. Edgar Martinez (SEA) 309
9. Mike Trout (LAA) 309

And here is my weekly tERA update.  All stats are as of this Saturday morning (ERA is in parentheses).

3.75 Heaney (5.25)
4.01 Bundy (4.20)
4.12 Ohtani (3.29)
6.89 Cobb (7.16)
8.25 Canning (8.40)
10.97 Quintana (10.13)

1.62 Watson (1.08)
1.84 Rodriguez (2.45)
3.24 Rowen (1.08)
3.46 Mayers (2.77)
4.63 Guerra (4.24)
5.18 Slegers (3.60
6.48 Claudio (5.40)
6.75 Iglesias (6.00)
8.52 Cishek (5.87)

According to tERA, Rodriguez has been extremely effective so far this year at not allowing runs to score. Rowen’s ERA suggests that that is the case also with Rowen, but tERA tells a different story. Rowen has not been that good at preventing inherited runners from scoring. In tERA, if a pitcher allowed an inherited runner from first base to score, that pitcher is charged with 3/4ths of a run. With ERA, the pitcher who allowed the inherited runner from first to score is not held responsible at all, and takes absolutely no hit to his ERA, which is why ERA presents a false representation of a pitcher’s actual performance and tERA presents what actually happened in the games.

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