© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
ANAHEIM -- In their early years, the Angels assembled a bullpen that came not-so-affectionately to be known as the "Arson Squad." These guys started and stoked many more blazes than they contained.
Nolan Ryan, who knew he had to go nine innings in those days to secure a victory -- and usually did -- must be envious as he observes the bullpen gracing his old stomping grounds.
When manager Mike Scioscia gets to the seventh inning with a lead, he can line up Justin Speier, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez and feel real good about life. And if any of those three can't go, quality veterans Hector Carrasco and Darren Oliver can fill the void.
Speier, Shields and Rodriguez form the latest in an evolving cast of dominant back-end trios under Scioscia's command. They came smoking out of the chute on Opening Day.
The threesome accounted for the final 12 outs of a 4-1 victory Monday night earned by John Lackey for negotiating five turbulent innings and limiting the Rangers to an Ian Kinsler home run.
Picking up Oliver after a single and walk in the sixth, Speier bagged six outs with 16 pitches, a rare feet. Shields also made 16 deliveries, striking out two of the three men he faced in the eighth, while K-Rod needed 14 serves to deliver game, set and match. Not a single baserunner surfaced against the efficient trio.
"It's kind of the way we drew it up," Shields said, adding that his favorite part of the game is watching the energy build in the stadium as closer K-Rod goes to work.
Scioscia likes power arms finishing games, and he has three of them. Speier, the newest member of the group, flourished in a setup role in Toronto the past three seasons before signing a free-agent deal with the Angels in November.
"You're not as concerned with power arms late in the game going back-to-back," Scioscia said. "They probably won't face the same set of hitters."
The son of a gun, 19-year Major League shortstop Chris Speier, Justin produced 111 strikeouts and issued only 36 walks in 118 innings across the past two seasons.
"He has a good arm with deception and command," Scioscia said. "He's able to throw three pitches in any count. His fastball will ride, he has a slider he can backdoor, and he has a nasty split."
Speier, a Major Leaguer since 1998 and employed by his seventh organization, clearly likes the feel of this new unit.
"It's exciting," he said. "The first game of the season sometimes feels like a playoff game. Now we can get into a routine and go out and pitch, start grinding away."
It's a grind, he added, he relishes.
Casey at the bat:
Having spent three partial seasons in Anaheim, losing 2006 to mononucleosis after only 79 at-bats in 29 games, Casey Kotchman got the adrenaline under control and launched a home run in his first plate appearance of the season. It was the ninth of his career in roughly half a season of total at-bats.
"That particular at-bat," Kotchman said of his drive against Kevin Millwood off the top of the center-field wall, "I was leading off the [second] inning and trying to see some pitches to give [starter John] Lackey a breather.
"I'm not thinking about home runs. If they go out, you take them."
Former teammate and clubhouse leader Darin Erstad had homered earlier in the day in his first at-bat with the Chicago White Sox.
"I saw that," Kotchman said, grinning, acknowledging that Erstad had been helpful to him. "You try to learn a little bit from everybody. You can learn stuff from every person."
Confidence, Scioscia noted, never has been an issue with the 24-year-old Kotchman.
"Casey knows he can play," the manager said. "It's just a matter of going out and doing it. That's a good way to get started."
According to the 2007 Major League Baseball Fan Cost Index, the Angels offer one of the best bargains in the sport for a family of four.
Only the Brewers, Rangers and Royals come below the $136.63 it costs for two adult average-priced tickets, two child average-priced tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two lowest-priced, adult-size adjustable caps.
The average ticket at Angel Stadium of Anaheim is priced at $19.49, below the $22.69 MLB average.
Way to go, Buddy:
That was Scioscia's phone message to his former pitching coach, Bud Black, after he'd led the Padres to an Opening Day triumph over the Giants in San Francisco.
"I called and got his voice mail," Scioscia said. "I'm really happy for Buddy. He prepared himself for this. He's going to be great in San Diego."
The Angels honored Tim Salmon and his family before Tuesday night's game, and the popular right fielder of the 2002 World Series championship team threw a strike to former teammate Garret Anderson with the ceremonial first pitch.
A highlight of the festivities was a scoreboard tribute to Salmon delivered by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., extolling Salmon's virtues. Only Anderson, with 1,762, has played more games as an Angel than Salmon's 1,672.
Playing his entire career with the Angels, Salmon finished with a club record 299 home runs and 1,016 RBIs, second to Anderson's 1,128. Salmon is the franchise leader in runs scored with 986.
Up next: Ervin Santana gets the call on Wednesday, opposing Rangers right-hander Brandon McCarthy in a matinee duel of young guns at 12:35 p.m. PT.