ALDS loss to Royals a distant memory for Angels
Halos open home slate this weekend against reigning AL champs
ANAHEIM -- Mike Trout, noticeably despondent, went around the room hugging everybody. Chris Iannetta sat in front of his locker, staring downward until the cameras approached. Jered Weaver dressed quickly and was on his way out when a TV reporter rushed out of Kauffman Stadium's home clubhouse, stopped the Angels' ace in the hallway and begged for an interview.
"You smell like champagne," Weaver said, solemnly.
This was the sobering scene in Kansas City on Oct. 5, 2014, the night the Angels' triumphant, 98-win season was spoiled by the same young, confident, upstart Royals team they'll host in Friday's home opener. It took six months for the Angels to establish themselves as the best team in baseball during the regular season that year, and 31 innings of the American League Division Series to send them home.
"It was tough," Angels leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun said. "It ended a lot quicker than I think everyone in that clubhouse would've hoped."
Albert Pujols and Huston Street, robotic in their approach, turned the proverbial page as soon as the final out was made. Erick Aybar, C.J. Wilson and several others left the country to help cope with it all. Several others dedicated the month of November to reflecting, then did their best to forget.
More than six months have passed since that ALDS sweep, and the Angels have long since moved on, with very little collective regret. There were so many positives to take away from the regular season and so many things that the Royals did right in the subsequent playoff series, so the closure came relatively quickly.
"They were locked in, man," Angels setup man Joe Smith said of a Royals team that ultimately came within a run of a World Series title.
"We got beat and we moved on," Trout said, plainly. "New year."
The upcoming weekend series is now "just another baseball game," Iannetta said. "We turned the page a long time ago. It'll just be another team that we play."
But it's here, at Angel Stadium, where painful memories remain. So many plays in those first two ALDS games in Anaheim could've altered the course of that series. So many occurrences could've changed the entire complexion of the Angels' season.
What if Fernando Salas and Kevin Jepsen don't serve up game-winning, 11th-inning homers in Games 1 and 2, respectively?
What if Nori Aoki doesn't make that miracle catch in the sixth inning of Game 1, stabbing his glove against the right-center field fence to rob Howie Kendrick of what could've been a game-changing two-run triple?
"That changes everything," Aybar said.
What if Jarrod Dyson doesn't throw out pinch-runner Collin Cowgill at third base in the eighth inning of Game 2, while trying to tag up with one out in a tied game?
Cowgill still thinks about that.
"All the time," the Angels' outfielder said. "It drives me, man. I use that as motivation. When I'm working out in the offseason, I've got Jarrod Dyson on my mind. I don't ever want to get thrown out, especially in that spot. But I'll tell you what - it was a lot easier to sleep that night having gone than having not gone."
They've considered what it would've been like if they didn't clinch the division so early, which led to meaningless games down the stretch in September and might have made the Angels a step slow in October. And they've thought about all those hits the Royals' outfield took away over that three-game stretch. But they've tried not to dwell on any of it.
"Thinking all those thoughts, to me, is just a waste of time," Street said. "It really is just a waste of time and energy -- unless I'm trying to better myself. If I'm just sitting here wondering, then effectively, I would tell whoever is doing that, 'All you're doing is feeling sorry for yourself. That's it. You're trying to figure out a way to make yourself feel better? I'll tell you how to make yourself feel better -- get ready for next season.'"
So here they are, moving on and looking at this weekend series merely as the next step of a clean slate.
In situations like this, the arduous grind is a necessary distraction.
"I think these guys carry confidence of a terrific regular season that is tempered a little bit with not playing as well as you could in the playoffs," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "These guys are ready. They've turned the page."