In front of them was a six-game road trip to Boston and Detroit. Behind them was a 3-7 homestand, five wins over their last 18 games and a 62-60 record, making Torii Hunter believe that "somebody had a little voodoo doll and they're messing with us."
Now, due to struggles on their pitching staff, the much-hyped Angels are where few thought they'd be with 40 games remaining -- nine games back in the American League West and 4 1/2 out for the second AL Wild Card spot.
In short, their situation has become urgent.
On Sunday morning, one day after honoring the 2002 team that won it all the year before he took over and prior to the Angels' 8-3 loss to Tampa Bay, Arte Moreno sat down with MLB.com for a wide-ranging interview. The Angels' owner discussed Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, the current state of his club and whether a postseason absence could affect Mike Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in the Major Leagues.
MLB.com: Watching that 2002 team come together, what did it make you think about someday winning it all under your watch?
Moreno: Well you know, it is a hard, hard thing to do, to try to put the chemistry and the timing together. ... We've had some very good teams, but have not quite got right over that last hump. And that's just part of trying to climb the mountain. You try to put a team together, the chemistry together, and try to get hot at the right time. It's an interesting business. For me, yeah, I want to win. And I want it for the fans. And when we don't achieve what we're trying to accomplish, I feel bad for the fans, because they're invested not only economically, but emotionally.
MLB.com: You put a lot of resources into the 2012 club (a franchise-record $154 million payroll). What are your thoughts on where your team is right now, relative to your expectations?
Moreno: Everyone has expectations. Whether you achieve those expectations, that's a different thing. But we always have very high goals. Our goal is to win the World Series. Not to just get to the playoffs, or just to win a (playoff) series. Our goal should always be to win the World Series. You try to build a team to put yourself in a position to accomplish that. Today, we are 3 1/2 games (4 1/2 after Sunday's loss) out of having an opportunity to go to the playoffs, and with 41 (40) games to play. We have a good baseball team. And I'm not telling you that every day we play to our abilities. But we're not 18 or 20 games out and done.
Right now, we get an opportunity to control our own destiny, and that's by performing. So, for me to go back and try to rehash things that you already know, and everybody else knows, is crazy. Because we all know where we were (Saturday) night, and we know where we were the night before and the week before and the month before. You know that. But the reason why we play the game is you don't know exactly what's going to happen today. In life, if you always knew where you were going, there wouldn't be any fun.
MLB.com: What's your favorite thing about Mike Trout?
Moreno: Well, geez, just that he was born to play baseball. There's not one word that can explain where you have a nice young man, a gentleman from day one, the smile, the energy, the talent. And he plays. I mean, he just loves to play the game. You can just see it in him. Head to first base, and the smile, then second base, and the smile, and he comes around to score, and the smile, and the energy. And a gentleman. I haven't spoken a bunch about it, just because I don't want to jinx him. I just enjoy watching this young athlete -- super athlete -- so far.
I guess the only word you can say when you see him play is just "wow" -- in all caps and [with] about 10 exclamation marks.
MLB.com: Almost five months into year one of a 10-year relationship, what are your thoughts about Albert Pujols so far?
Moreno: Somebody asked me, "What kind of guy is he?" I said, "He's a man." He is a man. He's a great, obviously, baseball player, but he's a good person and he has a lot of compassion for underprivileged and disabled, etc. But he is a man. I know that there was somebody else that was called that (Stan Musial), and we used one of the slogans, "El Hombre" (on billboards around Southern California). But whatever you want to call him, he is a player. I mean he's strong, hits for average, drives in runs, walks, plays great defense, good teammate. For me, the investment we made in our organization is, if you're a young kid, and your mom and dad take you to the ballpark, and you get to see, to date, one of the greatest players ever, if you look at his numbers? I mean that's a treat.
Somebody told me the other day, "You signed him for 10 years." And I go, "Yeah, I signed him for 2012, and we're going to watch him play in 2012, and then I'll tell you about 2013, and we'll watch him play in 2013, and then we'll talk about the next year when that comes." But for me, right now, to be focused on what's happening -- I hope I'm alive in 10 years.
MLB.com: Then let's go right back to this year. Have you allowed yourself to think of the possibility that this team could fall short of the playoffs? And if that happens, how does that play into your evaluations of the coaching staff?
Moreno: I signed Mike long-term, and I'm invested in Mike long-term. For you, as a writer, you're going on a day-by-day, writing articles and you want me to pull some kind of rabbit out of a hat and give you something about what we're going to look at after the season or how we're going to look at the beginning of the season next year. A couple years ago, (Ron) Roenicke was our bench coach and he was asked to be the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. A few years before that, our pitching coach (Bud Black, went to the Padres). So the changing of baseball staffs happen, or adjustments happen sometimes, because they get an opportunity to go somewhere else in a leadership role. And sometimes there are decisions made where we need to make a move because change is needed.
But I would say what you have to look at with people, whether they are in charge of ticketing or marketing or accounting or coaching, is what kind of person he is, how do they represent our organization and what have they accomplished over a period of time. ... We try not to make impulsive decisions. ... Let's put it this way: Right now, that is not in our thought process.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less