Angels' Mike Trout, center, celebrates with teammates David DeJesus, left, and Kaleb Cowart after an 11-10 win over Texas on Saturday.
Angels' Mike Trout, center, celebrates with teammates David DeJesus, left, and Kaleb Cowart after an 11-10 win over Texas on Saturday. (LM Otero / Associated Press)

This is a wait-'till-next-year column. It is directed at Angels fans who aren't quite sure what to think right now. Confused fans are almost worse than angry fans.

The Angels didn't make the playoffs. In truth, they probably didn't deserve a berth. In the end, they weren't quite good enough.


Last year, they were and got bombed out of the first round. This year, they weren't and battled right up to the last day. Which is worse? Which is more disappointing? Which is more revealing?

Quite frankly, the Angels now have more to build on than had they squeaked into the playoffs and been manhandled again, which seemed likely. It would have been difficult to find a team heading into the postseason with more tired pitching arms than the Angels. Sunday's seventh-inning collapse against the Rangers was a possible preview of what was likely to happen, had they gone on.

Interestingly, with both players and fans, Sunday won't be the prevalent memory from 2015. Saturday will.

The Angels should get armbands for next year's uniforms. Armbands don't have to be just for honoring the deceased. This armbands would have the number 161 on it. That was Saturday's game, No. 161 of the season.

Every time the Angels look at one another in 2016, the armband would be a reminder of what was perhaps the most inspiring effort in baseball since Kirk Gibson limped to the plate or Don Larsen stepped to the mound in the World Series.

It was the ninth inning. Texas led, 10-6. Josh Hamilton, of all people, had hit two homers. The phrase "rubbing salt in the wound" was created for times just like this.

For the Angels, there has never been a better excuse for walking to the plate and mailing it in.

They had been climbing into baseball spikes since late February. They had slept on more airplanes than Qantas gold members. They were playing in front of a Texas Rangers crowd that had come to celebrate, even to gloat. The champagne in the clubhouse would be a thimble of what was poured in the concession stands.

Yogi Berra was wrong. This one was over.

Except, it wasn't.

Erick Aybar, a leadoff hitter who is not paid to hit home runs, hit one. Kole Calhoun, who had recently made an art form out of striking out consistently, hit one in the upper deck.

Albert Pujols, who runs like a guy with a bad foot and still may have been the Angels' best baserunner the last month, scrambled to second when Mike Napoli misplayed a popup down the first base line. That possibly reminded Angels fans of one reason he no longer makes his home at the Big A.

Then the clutch hits started raining down. C.J. Cron. Carlos Perez. Johnny Giavotella. The usually meek and mild at the plate had become murderer's row. The Angels had gone from trailing 10-6, and from 10-8 with two out, to an 11-10 lead.

Joe Smith sidearmed the shocked Rangers into ninth-inning submission and it was left to writers and broadcasters to capture this 9.6 moment on sports' Richter scale. Most would admit they weren't quite up to it. This game was bigger than all of our abilities to hyperbolize.


Which brings us back to next year.

There will be a new general manager in Billy Eppler. Usually, they are hired to reconstruct. There certainly are needs.

Middle-inning relief pitchers. Better defense at first and third, unless Pujols can play a full season in the field. The confidence-building commitment to somebody behind the plate (Perez?) and in left field (David Murphy?). A sound assessment of whether Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are still to be rotation stars or something else.

The core is there. If you can't build around a 24-year-old center fielder whose name and numbers are already mentioned alongside the likes of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Mel Ott, then you don't deserve Mike Trout. And when, to go with Trout, you have an aging superstar (35), whose numbers have long ago been with those people and who is still putting up more, then you don't deserve Pujols.

Trout and Pujols. Eighty-one home runs. Not bad building blocks.

But the real building block is Game No. 161. You can have a clubhouse full of talent and, if a handful of them are jerks — driven only by contract-enhancing numbers and look-at-me egos — you'll play those last few games in October with eyes toward hunting blinds.

Angels Game No. 161 revealed an entire team rowing the boat toward the same finish line. In that one, character prevailed. Season long, talent might have been lacking.

You build on the character, on that collective desire to fight. You build on the moment of Trout's had-to-have-it-triple and head-first slide Friday night, in a 2-1 victory, and on his fist pump toward a dugout of delirium. Trout is still young enough to not be jaded by money or lifestyle. He is more than willing, and able, to put this team on his back.

Baseball doesn't work quite that way. Too many games, too much time for strange stuff to happen. It takes a village. Or at least a clubhouse.

Talk shows will start prattling on soon about the future of Manager Mike Scioscia, about Weaver's 80 mph fastball, about all the things for which talk shows exist.

The significance of Game No. 161 will fade in the noise. That happens with intangibles.

But Game No. 161 is also the best piece of hope and positive expectations that Angels fans will have.

As they wait 'till next year.

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes