BILL DWYRE

Angels' season has turned into a trip to the Haunted Mansion

The Angels were expected to contend for the World Series, but nearly midway through the season they have the third-worst record in the American League.

Once upon a time, not long ago, there was a really good major league baseball team just down the street from the Happiest Place on Earth. And it was happy too.

Its fans kept coming in big numbers. They wore red to games, played with beach balls in the stands and kept doing the wave, long after it fell out of fashion.

Fittingly, this team was called the Angels.

The fireworks and electrical parades down the street at Disneyland couldn't match that magical night in 2002, when the Angels brought heaven to their fans. They won the World Series.

Even Mickey and Minnie rejoiced. What a ride it had been.

It continued to get better. Along came a new knight in shining armor named King Arte, short for Arthur, who immediately lowered beer prices.

This wasn't baseball. It was Fantasyland.

King Arte did his best to keep the theme going in the park by buying players named Albert and C.J. and Josh. He did so searching somewhere over the rainbow for massive pots of gold. He either found them there, or talked to the TV people.

There were little setbacks in the throne room, especially when King Arte decided to send away Prince Charming Torii to another kingdom. The beach balls seemed to lose a bit of their bounce when that happened, especially since Prince Torii had been one of the top hitters on the team and continued to be so in his new kingdom of Detroit.

But even with young knights named Mike and Peter and Howie and Mark and Erick carrying the load, somewhere along the way, Cinderella's slipper came off. Young Mike was putting up numbers that made people compare his future to the onetime toast of the round table, Knight Mickey Mantle.

But it wasn't enough. The quest for Camelot was unraveling.

The pot-of-gold players were paying dividends in nickels. Albert limped, C.J. produced fireworks instead of snuffing them, and Josh found all the magic gone in his wand. Nobody seemed to know if the magic disappeared before he hurt his wrist, or because he did.

King Arte's main man, Manager Mike, steadfastly maintained that Cinderella would be found and the slipper match made. But with each day that passed, the mood in the red-clad stands became more grumpy, dwarfing the future.

Manager Mike kept saying such things as: "The season is not a sprint, it's a marathon." And, "I saw some things I liked out there tonight." Often, he said that after an 11-2 loss. Fans feared his nose might grow like Pinocchio's.

The Angels came into the last day of May with a little spurt of roller-coaster momentum and with four games to play at home against the statistically worst team of the 30 in major league baseball. They lost all four, embarrassingly, and the search for the slipper went on.

They will end the month of June with three more against the fabled Astros, and the word is that the townsfolk in Houston, until now pretty sneezy and sleepy about their team, are suddenly excited again.

Going into Monday's games, the Angels were better than only two other American League teams in that all-important category — the standings. Their 33-43 record brought a .434 winning average, followed only by the Chicago White Sox at 31-42 (.425) and those pesky Astros at 29-48 (.377).

This was supposed to be the year of the Freeway World Series. No less than the Mad Hatter of Los Angeles baseball, Tom Lasorda, said so. But Dodger Blue Heaven is currently about as awe-inducing as Little Bo Peep. The Dodgers, going into Monday's games, were 32-42 (.432).

The Angels lost three at home to the Pirates — the ones from Pittsburgh, not the Caribbean. They continued to perfect their Alice in Wonderland act of not hitting when they are getting good pitching and hitting well when their pitching stinks. Manager Mike, a.k.a. Captain Hook, is often left short-handed in the bullpen.

When there are men in scoring position, the Angels are mostly bashful and dopey.

Sunday, they took a 6-3 lead into the ninth inning. Tweedledee, a.k.a. Ernesto Frieri, allowed that to get back to 6-6. Then Tweedledum, a.k.a Kevin Jepsen, gave up four in the 10th and the Angels got only three back in their half of the 10th.

Pittsburgh won, 10-9, and swept the three-game series, sending the Angels out of town for three games at first-place Detroit and three at dreaded Houston.

Red-clad fans leaving Sunday, many of whom had seen all three weekend games, had to be thinking they'd never get those hours back in their lives.

There is more than half a season left. But it appears, at the moment, that all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put the Angels back together again.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

CHICAGO

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