Angels can breathe (small) sigh of relief with AL West crown in pocket

One by one, Mike Trout, Jered Weaver, Albert Pujols and all the Angels —goggles hanging onto their faces with champagne dripping — ran from the clubhouse through the dugout and onto the Angel Stadium field, more than an hour after their victory over Seattle on Wednesday night.  

The Angels had wrapped a 5-0 victory over the Mariners earlier, but thousands of fans, estimated at as many as 10,000, crowded the lower levels and waited to see if Texas could come-from-behind in Oakland.

It’s been five years since the Angels made the postseason, so waiting another hour for fans wasn’t a big deal. The organization needed some postseason swagger, and they got it in mid-September. First major-league team to clinch a playoff spot.

Fans held signs, had their cellphone video ready and chanted "Let’s Go Rangers!" as they watched a broadcast feed of the Oakland-Texas game on the JumboTrons. The Rangers tied the game in the ninth, then took a 4-1 lead on a three-run home run by J.P. Arencibia. Angel Stadium erupted outside, and inside, where the Angels waited in the clubhouse.

The Angels won the AL West title, even if the celebration was a bit delayed for fans, it was worth the wait.

"I can’t explain it, man," Trout said. "It’s unreal."

And now, Trout will make his debut in the postseason. Who doesn’t want to see the young star at the plate in meaningful games in October?

"I think everybody in this country knows about Trout and how special he can be," Pujols said.

Then Pujols thought of how many cameras and reporters will be watching his every move, and he told reporters he was going to have to add a chat with Trout to his to-do list.

It’s Trout’s first time to play baseball in October, but for Pujols, this is old hat. He’s been here and done that. He won two World Series titles with St. Louis, and the Angels need his veteran leadership and bat working in the lineup if they’re to win another.

It’s been a while for the Angels, who last won the World Series in 2002.

"Yeah, I know that," Pujols said. "Hopefully, we can finish strong and the wait over (12) years, hopefully we make it worth it and bring a championship back here."

Fans chanted "Weaver," who has been a constant around these parts, as he doused Trout with champagne on the field.

They cheered C.J. Wilson, whose had plenty of ups and downs, but threw a beauty on Wednesday, a one-hitter through seven scoreless innings. The bullpen finished with two frames.

But fans surely loved the postgame antics more than the in-game ones on this day.

"It’s awesome they’re still here watching us," Wilson said. "They’re stoked, and we’re stoked for them. They show up big-time every game. Home-field advantage for us is a big deal."

The playoffs is a big deal, especially when champagne has been sitting on ice for five years.

Angels owner Arte Moreno was on the field, basking in the postseason glow as well. He was wearing a drenched AL West champion T-shirt, a never-ending smile and his admittedly sarcastic nature on the field as he watched his team celebrate by running around the stadium track with high-fives for fans.

It had been years since the Angels last played in the playoffs, and that’s why the Angels let fans back in the stadium who had already left after the game was over. The night had just begun.

And for Moreno, the focus was on this team and this season.

"A couple of years ago, we won 89 games and didn’t make the playoffs," Moreno said. "I’m always able to turn the page."

That was a heavy page to turn last year as the Angels won just 78 games and weren’t in a pennant race in September.

The Angels sure needed this, and last year’s disappointment surely made this sweeter.

"A lot of teams are out there playing and trying to win," Moreno said. "A lot of franchises don’t get there. Fans know they’re out there trying to play. We put a team on the field, and we’re trying to compete. … It’s a good mix of veterans and young people and role players."

Fantastic starting pitching, a stout bullpen and an offense sparked by leadoff batter Kole Calhoun (86 runs), Trout’s 34 home runs and 107 RBI, Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Co. was key. C.J. Cron was the hero on Wednesday with a three-run homer to left-center field that broke open the game, and keyed a late-night celebration.

For the 95-win Angels, they hope this is just the beginning of celebratory good will.   

Now that the Angels have clinched, general manager Jerry Dipoto doesn’t have cruise control on his mind.   

"We just go win (Thursday)," Dipoto said.

They did that Wednesday.

When Texas got the last out in Oakland, it officially meant the Angels were winners again.

"Everything was crazy," Trout said. "We’re just so happy. It’s unreal. We’re going to enjoy every moment of it."

Wrapping up the division on Sept. 17 was good for many reasons, one of the most important of which was allowing 16-game winner Shoemaker more time to recover from the mild oblique strain that caused him to leave Monday’s game.

The Angels still have plenty of work to do, but celebrating a division title was a good start.

They’d been waiting a while for this party.