By Pete Zarustica/Garden Grove Journal
James Carville made famous his simple explanation for the key to the 1992 presidential election: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
For a baseball team trying to get back into a pennant race, the slogan might be, “It’s the clutch hitting, guys!”
That appears to be the focal point of many of the struggles of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as they battle to cut into the Texas Rangers’ big lead in the American League West.
“It’s frustrating,” said Torii Hunter after the Angels’ 4-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday. “We haven’t been getting a lot of timely hits. Sometimes we hit the ball and it’s right at guys. That’s what baseball is all about – luck – and we haven’t had any in a long time.”
The Angels’ batting statistics bear that out. In fact, Hunter, as cleanup hitter, is kind of the poster boy for the problem.
Overall, in “close and late” games where a key hit can decide the contest, the Halos were hitting a bleak .203 through Sunday.
Hunter, who is otherwise batting .290 and leads the team in RBIs with 70, is only swinging the bat at a .189 pace with the game on the line in the last three innings. Of Angel regulars, Mike Napoli has the best mark, hitting .255, followed closely by Howie Kendrick at .254. Erick Aybar is at .180, Hideki Matsui at .225 and Bobby Abreu at .236.
It’s not that they can’t hit with runners in scoring position. The Halos are batting .259 in that situation, compared to .257 overall.
It’s just that the “Little Ball” that the Angels have long-relied on to squeeze out wins in dramatic fashion isn’t quite working out in 2010 for some reason.
On Tuesday, three pitches into the game, and Clay Buchholz was in trouble.
He gave up a Green Monster double to leadoff batter Bobby Abreu, and No. 2 hitter Maicier Izturis stepped on Buchholz’s foot on a race to first base.
“Stuff like that happens,” Buchholz said after leading the Boston Red Sox to a 6-0 victory over the Angels on Tuesday. “I was fine after the first minute or so.”
He was better than fine.
The Red Sox right-hander regrouped and pitched seven shutout innings, getting Ryan Kalish’s first career grand slam and a car window-smashing homer from Darnell McDonald to earn his fourth straight victory. Buchholz (14-5) allowed five hits and two walks, striking out three before Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden finished off Boston’s first shutout since June 20.
“To hold that team to no runs any day is a pretty big feat,” said Buchholz, whose league-leading ERA dropped to 2.36. “They can score a whole lot of runs.”
Jered Weaver (11-8) allowed six runs on six hits and two walks, striking out four in his first loss in four starts. He gave up two homers, but another long drive was brought back in when Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, moved this month from center field to right, reached into the bullpen to grab it.
“It seems like whatever position Torii’s playing, he keeps making those catches,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
“That was one of the best you’re going to see.”The series with the Red Sox in Boston continued Wednesday (results too late for our deadline) and concludes today (Thursday).
On Friday, the Halos start a three-game series in Minnesota that runs through Sunday. Monday through Wednesday will find the Angels at home to host the Tampa Bay Rays.