ANAHEIM, Calif.--The folks who occupy the dugouts were too busy staring at each other to admit it, their fans were too busy screaming at each other to acknowledge it, but by the time the four-game wrestling match between the Dodgers and Angels ended Thursday, everyone was surely in agreement.
This would be a whale of a World Series.
If Southern California's two closest teams ever belonged on the same late-October schedule, this year would be it, these last four games filled with dizzying pitches and deadly stares, clutch hits and clutched mistakes, veteran taunts and tiny bubbles.
If their two fan bases ever deserved to bear witness to such a classic, that would be now, with this week's passion ringing louder than ever, the stadiums brimming with an autumn energy, boos for Mike Trout, boos for Yasiel Puig, cheers that sounded like jeers, blocks of red at Chavez Ravine, streams of blue in Anaheim.
Even the freeway got into the spirit of this Freeway Series, with Interstate 5 clogged this week with the sort of construction that mirrored the cacophony of the games.
It ended Thursday in Anaheim with the Dodgers taking a 7-0 win and a three-game-to-one series victory, but don't be fooled. The Dodgers only outscored the Angels by four total runs in the four games, and even this last game was filled with plunks and kicks and wallbangers and fun.
'It's tough when you have 40,000 people standing up, cheering for you, you want to get that big hit, if you try to do too much, you get in trouble. Try to relax up there... it's tough, but when you get a feel for it, it's easier'
"That's the way games should be played," said Mike Trout beforehand.
Trout turned 23 Thursday, and he has previously homered twice in the major leagues on his birthday, but Thursday's party wasn't so festive.
He went hitless in three at-bats, finished this series hitless in his final eight at-bats, and acknowledged that, yeah, Dodgers-Angels is now officially big stuff.
"It's tough when you have 40,000 people standing up, cheering for you, you want to get that big hit, if you try to do too much, you get in trouble," he said. "Try to relax up there... it's tough, but when you get a feel for it, it's easier."
The furor between two of baseball's best five teams began with Monday's opener at Dodger Stadium, when the Angels won, 5-0, in a game featuring Albert Pujols sneaking to second base on a sleeping Yasiel Puig after a fly out and then openly mocking him for it.
"That was a good play, a baseball play," said one of the managers, but it wasn't the Angels' Mike Scioscia, it was the Dodgers' Don Mattingly.
The Dodgers retaliated with a 5-4 win Tuesday on a walk-off bad throw by David Freese from third base to the plate that allowed Juan Uribe to score the winning run while Dodger Stadium shook with unsympathetic glee.
It was the completion of a Dodgers comeback that was inspired by Clayton Kershaw striking out Trout on three pitches after Trout had collected two earlier hits in the first-ever regular season duel between the superstars.
Said the intense Kershaw: "I'm not going to talk about individual guys."
Said the youthful Trout: "That was pretty cool facing him."
The series moved to Anaheim for Game 3, where the Dodgers took a 2-1 win after Puig got even. In the sixth inning, Hank Conger attempted to go from first to third on Freese's single to deep centre, but Puig came up throwing, and Conger was out on one bounce, and the potential rally was thwarted.
"That's how outfielders should be, he's daring people to run on him," said Trout. "You want to put that little fear in a baserunner's mind that he's got a good arm and can get you out."
All of which led to Thursday's finale, in front of the largest regular season Angel Stadium crowd in recent years, with an influx of Dodgers fans invading the place, turning it into a neutral field of deep red, bright blue and clashing cheers.
Against a backdrop of terrific pitching from the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu and woeful pitching by the Angels' C.J. Wilson, the two teams grappled from home plate to the centre field wall.
There were two guys hit by pitches, Scott Van Slyke for the Dodgers and Collin Cowgill for the Angels, both hit in the shoulder and back region; fair is fair.
Then there was one guy kicking another guy in the shins. The Dodgers' Juan Uribe was so irritated by the physicality of an attempted pickoff tag by Erik Aybar he booted the shortstop, then threw his hands in the air in a gesture of frustration as the fans roared.
Then, of course, there was a stadium-rocking play by Puig. Isn't there always? In the sixth inning, with runners on first and third, it appeared Josh Hamilton had ripped at least a double off the wall on a ball driven deep to center field. But a racing Puig got there first, banging into the blue "Experian" sign as the ball sailed into his glove.
This time, he did not taunt back, but merely walked stone-faced back to the dugout surrounded by thunderous cheers and boos.
It was that kind of game, that kind of week, sadly the only such series between these two teams during this regular season.
A couple of months from now, wouldn't you give the world to see another one?
-- Los Angeles Times