Season of triumph and tragedy for Angels

Season of triumph and tragedy for Angels

ANAHEIM -- By any reasonable evaluation, the Angels had an exceptional season. Yes, it ended too soon for their fans, but that's true of the faithful of 28 other Major League clubs. Only the World Series champion leaves behind complete fulfillment.

In time, after the disappointment of not winning it all dissipates and reason settles in, fans will realize how exciting, determined and resilient manager Mike Scioscia's 10th troupe was in reaching Game 6 of the American League Championship Series before expiring at the hands of the Yankees in the Bronx.

The Angels overcame extreme emotional distress and a sluggish start to claim a third consecutive AL West title, outlasting a persistent Texas club and producing a club-record 47 comeback wins. It was a surprisingly strong division with Seattle and Oakland both finishing strong, serving notice that they'll be hard to handle in coming seasons.

The highlight of the season for Scioscia and Co. came with a three-game sweep of nemesis Boston in the AL Division Series, punctuated by a memorable Game 3 comeback -- three runs with two out in the ninth against Jonathan Papelbon -- at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had eliminated the Angels the previous two seasons and two other times, making this a case of sweep revenge for long-suffering fans.

Unfortunately, the momentum of the ALDS triumph did not carry over with four idle days before the start of the ALCS. A dominant Yankees outfit prevailed, but only after the Angels rebounded from a pair of defeats to force a return to Yankee Stadium by taking two of three at home.

"We had to overcome a lot of obstacles this season, and we have nothing to hang our heads about," Torii Hunter said. "We had a great season."

An unspeakable tragedy surfaced in the season's opening week when 22-year-old starter Nick Adenhart, a rising star, was killed along with two companions when their car was broadsided by an alleged drunk driver. It happened a few hours after Adenhart had pitched six scoreless innings against the Athletics in his season debut at Angel Stadium on April 8.

The sorrow and mourning, along with injuries to starters John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar and season-ending knee surgery of setup man Scot Shields, left the club in despair and disrepair until mid-June. Suddenly, the offense took off with a three-month run that by all statistical measures was the equal of any in franchise history.

Escobar made one start and was done for the season with ongoing shoulder issues. But with Lackey and Santana back in top form along with Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders, the acquisition of Scott Kazmir on Aug. 28 from Tampa Bay for three prospects gave Scioscia what he called his best and deepest rotation in 10 years.

He also lauded an offense that compared with the 2002 World Series champions for depth and production, featuring catalysts Chone Figgins (.395 on-base percentage, 114 runs scored) and Bobby Abreu (.390 OBP, 103 RBIs, 96 runs) and breakout seasons by first baseman Kendry Morales (.306, 34 homers, 108 RBIs) and left fielder Juan Rivera (.287, 25 homers, 88 RBIs).

An acrobatic, dependable defense, featuring Gold Glove center fielder Hunter and Gold Glove candidates Figgins at third base and Erick Aybar at shortstop, excelled in setting a club record for fewest errors in a season.

Weaver was the one constant in the rotation, moving into the elite class of starters. New closer Brian Fuentes, replacing Francisco Rodriguez with a Major League-leading 48 saves, delivered in a bullpen that was anchored by veteran Darren Oliver with solid work by Jason Bulger, Kevin Jepsen and Matt Palmer.

Record: 97-65, first place in AL West

Defining moment: The Angels were 29-29 and mired in a deep funk after absorbing an 11-1 beating by the Rays in Florida on June 11. Scioscia took the team to task, vowing to make changes if things didn't improve. The club responded immediately with a tremendous run of inspired play that carried through August.

What went right: The offense led the Majors in batting average (.285) and average with runners in scoring position (.297), setting a franchise record with 883 runs scored. Eleven players, a Major League record, collected at least 50 RBIs. The defense committed the fewest errors (85) in a season in club history and matched the highest fielding percentage (.986). A patchwork pitching staff, held together by Weaver and the likes of Palmer, Bulger and Jepsen, finished strong with the rotation finally intact. Weaver had a superb season and was worthy of an All-Star selection that did not come his way. Saunders, after sitting out almost three weeks with shoulder issues, claimed his last seven decisions in eight outings to match Weaver for the club lead with 16 wins.

What went wrong: Adenhart's death was a profound blow, impossible to measure. The absence of Lackey and Santana for the first six weeks and the loss of Escobar and Shields forced Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher to improvise and search for answers. Vladimir Guerrero, recovering from knee surgery, tore a chest muscle and injured a leg in one of his few outfield appearances. The cleanup man was limited to 100 games, almost entirely as a designated hitter. Hunter, enjoying a career year offensively, was in the midst of an MVP-caliber season when he missed a month with a groin injury caused by crashing into outfield walls.

Biggest surprise: Palmer, a 30-year-old journeyman right-hander who was 0-2 in three Major League starts coming into the season, responded to an unexpected opportunity to win his first six starts. Dispatched to the bullpen, Palmer delivered solid work in middle relief, finishing 11-2 with a 3.93 ERA and enjoying every day of his life in the big time.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.