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OC Register: Alexander: Dodgers-Angels may not be a ‘rivalry,’ but it’s crazy and fun

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LOS ANGELES — If Major League Baseball realigns in the near future, as some suggest, tradition probably will take a hit. The DH will likely become universal, divisions could be realigned regionally and we might even lose the traditional National and American League designations.

(That would not please This Space, although I’m starting to come around on the DH. Those who have known me for any length of time, take a moment to compose yourselves after the initial shock.)

But if that upending of the traditional baseball universe would mean more neighborhood squabbles between the Dodgers and Angels? Count me in.

The 2018 version of the Freeway Series has been a lot of fun the last two weekends. The Angels won twice last weekend at Anaheim with late-inning lightning. The Dodgers rallied in the seventh Friday night and held off the Angels in the ninth, and Saturday evening the sides went back and forth before Kole Calhoun deposited a Kenley Jansen cutter into the right field pavilion, for his third home run in two games and ultimately a 5-4 Angels victory.

We are lucky, actually, that the teams play six times this season, concluding with Sunday’s Dodger Stadium duel between Clayton Kershaw and Deck McGuire. Usually, it’s just one four-game series, split between the two ballparks, but since the AL and NL West Divisions are interleague partners this year, we get two extra games.

Imagine if they played 18. The players would survive, but some fans might not.

“You know it’s always a packed crowd,” Angel pitcher Andrew Heaney said. “The Dodger fans bring it, and our fans bring it so it’s always exciting.

“I don’t know why, but it seems like we play some really close, crazy games. I don’t know if it’s because of that. I don’t know what it is … We had one last year where they had a strikeout on (Cameron) Maybin and (Yasmani) Grandal threw a ball into right field and we won on that. We’ve had some really strange ones.”

Like, say, the one last Friday night in Anaheim, where Jansen had Shohei Ohtani down 0-2 and was one strike away from a save, but walked Ohtani and started what turned out to  be a game-winning rally for the Angels, helped along by a wild throw from Yasiel Puig and Jansen’s failure to back up home plate.

Or Friday night’s 3-2 Dodgers victory, courtesy of a two-out seventh-inning rally aided by a wild throw from right fielder Calhoun.

“And even today, it’s not weird, but it’s back and forth … It’s just the kind of stuff you don’t feel like you see very often.”

It is almost exclusively a fan-driven rivalry, which is what lends itself to the energized atmosphere in both ballparks. In Anaheim, plenty of Dodger fans show up and make it their mission to outshout the Angel fans. In The Ravine, Angel fans are more outnumbered, but there’s still an intensity that tells you that this is something special.

“It’s always good energy around … I guess you’d call it a hometown rivalry,” Angels reliever Blake Parker said.

“You always have guys on the other team that you’ve played with, or know, or grew up with, or seen in the minors. But once you get up here and you put the ‘A’ on your chest, or you see the Dodgers over there, it always adds a little bit more excitement to the game. The fans are in it, going back and forth all game, and it’s especially fun because both teams are very well represented at either place.”

Heaney noted that he’d played with Austin Barnes and Kiké Hernandez in Miami, and played with injured Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager in the Arizona Fall League.

And, in fact, Heaney was a Dodger himself for, oh, maybe six minutes or so in the winter of 2014, coming from the Marlins to the Dodgers in the Dee Gordon trade before being flipped to the Angels in the Howie Kendrick trade. He even tweeted a farewell message to Dodger fans after that second trade, kiddingly but charmingly so.

The one guy who truly has deep roots on both sides, Mike Scioscia, has for years downplayed any sort of rivalry, and the Angels’ manager hasn’t changed his stance.

“Over the years I think the fans probably feel the geographical rivalry more than we do,” he said. “I mean, the Dodgers are a terrific club and when we play them you have to play well to beat them. That’s what we’re focused on.”

Still, it’s not a blood rivalry because the teams don’t play in the same division, aren’t going head-to-head for a playoff spot, and haven’t had any bad blood for a couple of decades, or since Chan Ho Park tried to deliver a flying dropkick to Tim Belcher in 1999.

Now, if there were realignment, and these teams played each other 18 times with something on the line, not only would the players feel it more but each team’s fans would really have reason to despise the other. Think Kings-Ducks, multiplied by 10.

As it is now, it’s fun. And if baseball’s powers that be want to give us more, I could certainly live with that.


@Jim_Alexander on Twitter



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