Mutka: LaTroy Hawkins pins World Series hopes on Angels
July 1, 2012 11:26PM
Updated: August 3, 2012 6:25AM
Only one thing is missing from LaTroy Hawkins’ bio. That would be a World Series ring.
In 17 big league seasons, the lean 6-foot-5 right-hander from Gary has taken four shots at the biggest prize of them all. Post-season trips with the Twins (2002, 2003), Rockies (2007) and Brewers (2011) have fallen short.
His nearest brush with the coveted hardware came with the wild-card Rockies, who won 21 of their last 22, including post-season sweeps of the Phillies and Diamondbacks in an improbable advance to the Fall Classic. Hawkins made five post-season appearances in that memorable season, allowing just one run in five innings, but the Red Sox won four straight to claim their second World Series in a row.
Time is running out on the nomadic reliever, who will turn 40 in December, but October still beckons like an elusive siren.
Now with the Los Angeles Angels, his seventh team since 2005, Hawkins has averaged less than an inning over 18 appearances. West Side’s most celebrated athlete would have been much busier if he hadn’t missed nearly an entire month. He was shut down on May 6 by a fractured pinky on a comebacker.
Now healthy again, Hawkins bounced back with nine straight scoreless outings. Over his last 10 visits to the mound, his earned run average is a microscopic 1.13. Elsewhere that might qualify for his own float in a ticker-tape parade, but in La-La land he’s merely an effective cog.
One of baseball’s best bullpens starts with Ernesto Frieri, who has strung together 23.1 scoreless innings since the Angels acquired him from San Diego. He’s yet to give up a run, has allowed just six hits and is 10-for-10 in saves, which explains why the Angels have nearly been unbeatable on the road. Scott Downs, his left-handed counterpart, compliments Frieri with 14 holds and six saves His sensational 0.35 ERA stretches over a team-high 29 trips.
The bullpen anchors are supported by Hawkins, Jason Isringhausen (2.33 ERA, 28 games) and Jordan Walden (3.00 ERA, 24 innings), all right-handers.
One of the best rotations in baseball makes it hard to understand why the Angels can’t seem to gain ground on Texas in the American League West.
Jered Weaver, an 18-game winner and a 200-innings eater, is flashing Cy Young potential with his 8-1 record. Lefty C.J. Wilson, who exited Texas after going 16-7, is 9-4 for the Halos. Both pitchers are overshadowing Detroit’s Justin Verlander, who is stressed from five straight years of 200-plus innings, including a major league high of 251 in 2011.
Beyond them Dan Haran, Ervin Santana and Garrett Richards have helped the Angels’ starting pitchers lead the league in ERA for much of the season.
Throw in Cardinals’ icon Albert Pujols and the ambitious Angels are rightfully bubbling with optimism even though the perennial All-Star stumbled through a homer-less April. Until he recovered the Angels sputtered offensively despite the T&T outfield connection of Mark Trumbo (19 homers, 53 RBI) and Mike Trout. The latter is compensating for Vernon Wells, a flop since coming over from Toronto last year. Wells batted an anemic .218 in 2011 and currently missed a chunk of playing time because of an injury.
While Wells’ thumb mended, Trout consoled the Angels by going 19-for-46 to boost his average to .342. Meanwhile, Pujols has adjusted to laid-back Anaheim and a different league with 12 home runs and 47 RBI.
All this should add up to what might be Hawkins’ last chance at acquiring World Series jewelry.
Aging he may be, but “The Hawk” is a long way from overtaking such baseball senior citizens as Jamie Moyer, Omar Vizquel and Mariano Rivera.
Moyer, the grand-daddy of ‘em all, picked up his 269th victory before Colorado released him this spring. The 49-year-old lefty is the oldest player to win a major league game since Hoyt Wilhelm pitched from his rocking chair in 1972. More than 100 of Moyer’s victories came after he celebrated his 30th birthday.
After being dumped, Moyer couldn’t convince Baltimore to promote him from the minors so he and his 76-mph ‘fastball were released. In the words of the immortal Hawk Harrelson, “he gone.’
Vizquel, one of the all-time great defensive shortstops, is now playing second base at Toronto after making a pitstop with the White Sox. He spent most of his golden-glove years with Cleveland, but is 45. The rocking chair awaits.
Rivera, a sure-fire Hall-of-Fame reliever with the Yankees, is sitting out his 17th season after suffering a torn ACL in June. The 12-time All-Star is 42, the same number as his jersey. Despite successful surgery, his status for 2013 remains uncertain.
Of course, no list of elder statesmen would be complete without applauding Satchel Paige, who made his major league debut in 1948. Being 42 years old at the time made him the oldest rookie in history. Thanks to Bill Veeck he pitched two years for Cleveland, three for the former St. Louis Browns, then hung it up with the Kansas City Athletics in 1963.
Reportedly ‘Satch’ kept throwing his hesitation pitch until he was 60.