Previously, on 2014 Highlights: The Arrow Game
Let’s set the stage. The Angels have spent the last 14 days dancing between two games back and two games ahead of the A’s in the AL West. Oakland has faltered some in the month, but still holds a +61 run-differential advantage (!) over the Halos and remains the consensus Best Team in Baseball. On one side, a rotation ace has just been lost for the season; on the other, two new aces are adjusting well to the pitcher-friendly confines of the Coliseum.
It is the final four days of August, and the Angels are hosting their division rivals for four games. Anything other than a sweep for the Halos will preserve the back-and-forth status quo. No one expects a sweep. Against the gauntlet of Sonny Gray, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Scott Kazmir, the most anyone is asking for is a split. Anaheim has swept Oakland only once the last three seasons, and not in a four-game set since 1997. The odds, they are long.
The opening contest is a battle, with the Halos squeaking out a 4-3 win in 10 innings, but the rest are more or less a cakewalk. The Angels flat out dominate. Oakland scores just one run in the final 31 innings of the series, going 29 frames scoreless at one point, and is shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 2006. Weaver outduels Lester, a desperation bullpen experiment outduels Samardzija, and Shoemaker outduels Kazmir. The Angels waltz to the sweep, expanding their division lead to a full five games and increasing their odds to win the West by a full 31 percent, from 61% to 92%.
I honestly cannot remember another important regular season series ever going so well. I wrote a bit about the catharsis the sweep brought right after it happened, and reminiscing about it nearly two months later still brings with it a wave of endorphins. It was the pivotal point of the season for both teams: the Angels turning upward, into the best team in baseball; the A’s spiraling downward, into a near-full collapse.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Sweep. After it, the Angels needed to simply be mediocre down the stretch to take their first division title in four years. (They weren’t, of course, but that’s a story for another day.) They entered September an MLB-best 86-56, with 12 of their next 13 coming against sub-.500 opponents. With any other result in the series, who knows how the rest of the season plays out. Maybe the A’s aren’t so deflated for the stretch run, and maybe the Halos don’t click until it’s too late.
There were a lot of great individual moments in the series — e.g. the bullpen shutout, Coco Crisp robbing then dropping Chris Iannetta’s home run, Matt Shoemaker extending his scoreless innings streak — but my personal favorite was the obliteration of Scott Kazmir in the series’ final game. I don’t typically take pleasure in the pain of others, but Kazmir falling to pieces anytime he has anything to do with his former club is just too good not to revel in. The southpaw allowed just 1⅓ innings on the day, and is now the not-so-proud owner of a 22.10 ERA against the Angels over three starts the last two seasons; he has not made it through the fourth inning nor allowed fewer than five runs in any of the three outings. I’m don’t know what kind of psychological hold the Halos have over Kazmir, but it sure makes for some fun baseball.
Up Next: The Streak