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Angels fall at precipice of pinnacle
Halos fall at precipice of pinnacle
By Anthony Castrovince
NEW YORK -- The road that took the Angels through personal tragedy, professional adversity, division triumph and Fenway magic reached its bitter end in the Bronx on Sunday night.
But when the Angels are done licking their wounds after a disappointing American League Championship Series loss to the Yankees, they'll reflect on what a strong unit they became while navigating that road.
Some of that reflection began in the aftermath of their 5-2 loss to the Yanks in Game 6, though turning the page wasn't easy. Red eyes told the story of an Angels team that fought hard to push this series back to New York, only to come up short.
"Man, we had to overcome a lot of obstacles this season," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "The death of a teammate, a lot of injuries to key players. We battled. We had a lot of young guys pitching, coming up from Triple-A and things like that. We had a big hill to climb. We overcame Boston [in the AL Division Series], came here and played a great Yankees team. We played some of the best games I've ever played in my career in this series. It's frustrating, but we've got nothing to hang our heads low about."
This was a season that began with a punch to the gut and a hurt in the heart. Losing Nick Adenhart in a car accident following the third game of the season could have unraveled the Angels. Likewise for a series of injuries and ineffectiveness that ravaged the starting rotation.
But the uphill climb that Hunter alluded to only made the Angels tougher as the year progressed. They found themselves in a dogfight with the Rangers and emerged on top of the AL West for the third straight season and the fifth time in six years. Their resilience demonstrated by their franchise-record 47 comeback wins this year.
"It was a roller-coaster season," right-hander Jered Weaver said. "We had a lot of ups and downs and things we had to battle through. I think it just shows how strong a club we've got."
"Everybody wants to keep this team together."
-- Torii Hunter
That strength revealed itself in the way the Angels handled the Adenhart situation. As manager Mike Scioscia said, there is no handbook to detail how to go through a loss of that magnitude. But the Angels kept Adenhart's memory alive by leaving his locker untouched all season, and the players formed a bond with Adenhart's family that they hope will last a lifetime.
"Any time they want to come check us out, they're more than welcome," Weaver said. "We'll take them in with open arms."
When it came to the ALCS, the Angels welcomed the challenge presented to them with open arms. This was a matchup of two titans, as the Angels were second only to the Yankees in wins (97 to 103) and runs scored (883 to 915) this season.
After the Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the series, it was fashionable to write the Angels off. But they took two of three in Angel Stadium to make it a truly compelling ALCS.
"These were probably some of the best games I've ever played," second baseman Howard Kendrick said. "These felt like World Series games."
While the Angels didn't reach their ultimate goal of winning the World Series title for the first time since 2002, they certainly had a season worthy of respect.
As far as where the Halos go from here, they have no shortage of questions looming this offseason. The free-agent eligibility of John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu will make this a particularly challenging offseason for general manager Tony Reagins and company.
Following the Game 6 loss, Abreu made it clear he wants to be a part of the Angels' future.
"This is a young team that has the ability and the talent to be in the World Series and win the World Series," Abreu said. "I want to be a part of that."
Hunter, for one, is confident that whatever moves are made this offseason, the Angels will come out in a position to win.
"Everybody wants to keep this team together," Hunter said. "[The decisions] are out of my jurisdiction and are a hot tamale. But I'm pretty sure [owner] Arte Moreno wants to win even more than I do or Mike does. I'm sure he's going to make the adjustments he needs to make."
Baseball is, of course, a game of adjustments. And the Angels had to adjust to plenty of difficulties over the course of this season.
In the end, they did what they have often done in Scioscia's tenure. They won, and they won often.
While they didn't win the ALCS, they found plenty of reason to hold their heads high.
"Although this stings right now, what our guys in that room accomplished is very, very important," Scioscia said. "And we just are going to take that forward and hopefully get better."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.