NEW YORK -- The 2009 season ended with a bitter defeat for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But this season, taken as a whole, represents a victory for this club.
No other team in Major League Baseball had to go through what the Angels went through this year. A wave of pitching injuries early would have been enough in the category of adverse circumstances. But the tragic death of pitcher Nick Adenhart in an auto accident tested this team on a basic, human level. The Angels did not fail this test.
It was difficult to grasp the long-term perspective on Sunday night after Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. The Angels lost to the Yankees, 5-2. It was another game in which the Halos did not play the kind of fundamentally sound baseball that has characterized their work for many years.
After a regular season in which the Angels compiled the second-best record in baseball and won their fifth AL West title in six years, they encored with a sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the AL Division Series. At that point, it appeared that the Angels were well over the playoff hump, because the Sox had knocked them out of the postseason in three previous ALDS.
But in the ALCS, they played with an atypical lack of precision in each of the games in New York. They won two out of three in Anaheim and were impressive enough in doing so. Still, their overall performance was not enough to overcome the team with baseball's best talent. So Sunday night was tough for the Angels, even though everybody involved knew that this team had considerable achievements.
"Right now, it's tough to get a silver lining when you're knocked out," manager Mike Scioscia said. "It was a series that we had high expectations for, and we didn't get it done. But I think as we reflect on this, after a couple of days, just look at all the great things that happened on the field for us, the trials and tribulations that the guys in that clubhouse went through all year is something that you hope you never have to go through in your lifetime again.
"It was a special group in there to keep going. A special group in there to keep bringing Nick's memory forward every day. Every day, we came to the park, and he's still with us.
"This is tough for our team. It's tough for our guys to get this far and not quite get to your final goal, making it to the World Series. But I don't think any of us have ever been prouder than a group of guys that we had in that room all season for the Angels in this clubhouse. And the character they showed the whole season is something that we certainly will remember and move forward with.
"So although this stings right now, what our guys in that room accomplished is very, very important. And we just are going to take that forward and hopefully get better."
For the Angels, looking forward will be a much more pleasant experience than looking back on this series. This is a talented team, and a club that typically plays an aggressive, alert style of baseball. It has a solid core of returning position players and, even better in this era, an impressive base of pitching talent that is already accomplished and in many cases is young enough so that improvement could fairly be expected.
The Angels will have several free-agency concerns. Heading the list is John Lackey, the ace of the staff, who may well be the best available pitcher on the market this winter. There is a question of how to regard designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero. There is no question that his production has dwindled in recent seasons, but he staged something of a revival in some clutch situations in the postseason. The Halos got Bobby Abreu relatively cheap for 2009, but after the season he had and the influence he has exerted on other Angels hitters in terms of patience and selectivity at the plate, he may be in for a larger payday this offseason.
The overall outlook remains bright here, no matter how disappointing this postseason defeat was. This is a franchise that has managed to combine the better parts of two approaches in building its team. It has a productive developmental system; young, promising pitchers in particular keep on appearing in Angels uniforms. And it has been able to fill in with some reasonable free-agent signings. This is a stable organization, well managed at every level from the front office to the field.
And it is possible that, as painful as this season was with the death of Adenhart, the Angels having come through this experience united in purpose indicates growth, even in adversity. There is no handbook on this, no tangible measurement that can be taken. But the Halos, with all kind of excuses that would have allowed them to fold this year, did the opposite. The collective character involved could, as Scioscia suggests, be one of this team's strengths in seasons to come.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.