I truly love baseball, and a game like Wednesday night’s Indians/Angels tilt is the kind that reinforces that love. There were sparkling individual performances of all types, terrific pitcher/hitter battles, some interesting decision-making, and some late-game heroics. Throw in the best seats I’ve had in a while-section 221, row J, if you know Angels Stadium-and it was a fantastic night.

The game turned on the smallest of plays. Nursing a 2-0 lead, and having thrown just 66 pitches through six innings, Indians starter Paul Byrd faced Erick Aybar leading off the seventh. After falling behind 0-2, Aybar chopped a ball off the plate high in the air, and beat it out for an infield single. Now working from the stretch, Byrd fell behind Kendry Morales 2-0, then grooved an inner-half fastball that Morales launched on a line into the right-field bleachers to tie the game. An inning later, Gary Matthews Jr. hit Fernando Cabrera’s first pitch into nearly the same spot for the game-winner.

Byrd had the Angels in check for the entire game up to that Aybar single. He scattered six hits, one an inning, without walking a batter. In fact, he threw more than four pitches to just two hitters in the first six frames. It was a perfect storm, a pound-the-strike-zone pitcher (at his best, Byrd is a Jon Lieber type) going up against a team that loves to swing the bat. Byrd seemed to have much better command from the windup than he did from the stretch, and the numbers supported this notion; for the game, he threw 80% strikes from the windup (43/54), 63% (26/41) from the stretch. When Aybar reached and he fell behind to Morales, there was a sense that he was in trouble, and he was.

Of course, Byrd wasn’t really the mound attraction this evening. Jered Weaver isn’t far enough removed from his ├╝berprospect days to have become uninteresting, despite a 5.21 ERA at game’s start and a stint on the DL to open the year. It was surprising to see him work at 88-89 mph most of the night, peaking with fastballs to Kelly Shoppach and Josh Barfield in his last inning (the sixth), where he got up to 91. Whether it was a slow stadium gun or something else, I was surprised by those numbers.

Related to that was Weaver’s inability to miss bats. The Indians swung and missed at just seven of Weaver’s 114 offerings, out of 50 swings total. (I found the latter figure fascinating; the Indians are a ridiculously patient team, and put together good ABs all night long.) I spent a lot of time watching Weaver to try and figure out why this was the case. Remember: I Am Not a Scout, and this may have just been one odd outing. Nevertheless, what I concluded from watching him was that he allows a very good look at the baseball early in his delivery. He breaks his hands at the top of his windup, then pulls his right hand far behind his back before coming forward. As a hitter, I always liked to find the baseball as early as possible. Weaver lets hitters find the baseball very early, which should help them track it more easily and make contact more readily.

What’s certain is that Weaver has to miss more bats to have continued success. He had to throw a lot more pitches than he should have had to last night, because he struggled to put guys away in two-strike counts-14 two-strike foul balls in six innings.

Other notes from a snappy 2:34 game:

  • The Angels’ 2-3-4 hitters, Orlando Cabrera, Matthews, and Vladimir Guerrero, are free-agent signees to whom the team has committed nearly $160 million. Everyone else in the lineup is a product of their development system. It’s not the most impressive cast-Casey Kotchman and Erick Aybar are picking up a scent of “disappointment”-but it is all homegrown, inexpensive and, collectively, fairly good. Add in Weaver and the team’s three best pitchers, and you have one of the most self-derived rosters in the majors.

    Sooner of later, though, Bill Stoneman is going to have to make one of these “trade” thingies. The Angels have let a lot of value erode by not trading prospects at the peak of their value, and in doing so, lost opportunities to add to their championship haul by being good, but not quite great.

  • The Indians are something to watch at the plate, recalling the dynasty Yankees or the original Billy Beane A’s or the 1993 Phillies. They make pitchers throw strikes, and are willing to take those strikes in an effort to get a better one to hit. They’re second in the AL in walks and third in OBP and runs, all while being below average in batting average and slugging. When the hits and power come, the Indians will challenge the Yankees as the best offense in the league.
  • If you watched last night’s game, or any of Paul Byrd’s starts this year, write in and tell me if you think he balks from the set. I know the definition of “a stop” is as fluid as “baseline” seems to have become, but I had a hard time discerning one last night. If I pitched for the Tribe, I’d probably cheat, too, given the catchers. Basestealers are 25-for-33 (76%) against the Indians this year, after a 79% success rate in 2006.
  • Just before the season started, the Angels reached agreement on a four-year deal with reliever Scot Shields. Shields has been a terrific weapon for this team since 2003, and has a career ERA of 2.84 in 509 2/3 innings, with nearly a 3:1 K/BB, once you take out intentionals.

    Still, I didn’t like the contract, because relievers don’t have the kinds of career paths that hitters do. Simply put, it’s a very rare reliever who is successful for more than a few years at a time. Those who fit that category are highly protected closers, and at that, Hall of Fame candidates. Even those pitchers often have a clunker or a season lost to injury in the middle of a great stretch; think of Billy Wagner or Trevor Hoffman, each losing a year along the way. By signing Shields through the 2010 season, the Angels have effectively said that they expect him to make history, to be the first non-closer to have an eight-year run of effectiveness. This is a franchise that values continuity, but that’s a bet I wouldn’t make.

    Shields didn’t pitch last night, so he’s not the reason for this critique. No, the inspiration is Dustin Moseley, who threw 16 pitches over two innings and looked for all the world like a Scot Shields starter kit. Moseley was a supplemental first-round pick by the Reds in 2000, and never quite fulfilled their outsized expectations for him. Like Shields, he spent two years in Triple-A, posting high ERAs with so-so peripherals. Until late last year, Moseley had never made a relief appearance as a professional. Now, though, he has a 1.73 ERA in 20 1/3 innings, and while his peripherals are so-so (eight strikeouts, four walks, one home run), he has a better than 2:1 G/F ratio and he was working comfortably above 90 last night. He’ll also make maybe $2 million over the next three seasons.

    Great relievers aren’t born, they’re made, usually by being broken once or twice along the way. To make an investment like that in Scot Shields showed not only excessive optimism about what his next 300 innings will look like, but an ignorance of how he came to be in the first place. Shields was a 38th-round pick who stalled as a starter at Triple-A in 2000 and 2001. It was when he was converted to relief that he became an effective pitcher. He was in his sixth year as a pro when he had an impact, and not until his seventh did he spend a full year in the majors. Moseley is in his seventh year as a pro now after washing out of his first organization, and is just now getting his best chance at a job in a new role.

    Even setting aside money, I might take Moseley’s next three years over Shields’ next three years. Once I consider the commitments involved, the choice is clear. Scot Shields may very well make history by having the longest run of success of any non-closer in memory, but betting on that is a poor play, especially when the next Scot Shields is usually an opportunity away.

  • Moseley’s performance was even more impressive given the Indians’ lineup. I have no problems with how Mike Scioscia assembles his bullpens, usually forgoing a lefty specialist and letting his relievers throw complete innings rather than chasing matchups. If there’s one team against which you’d want a southpaw, however, it’s this one. The Indians are just loaded from the left side, but of that group only Travis Hafner can hit lefties. Even switch-hitting Victor Martinez is a bigger threat from the left side. You have to be able to go after Grady Sizemore, David Dellucci, Trot Nixon, Hafner, and Martinez with a lefty reliever, maybe even two.

    It’s not a big deal now, but it will be something to watch if these two teams match up in the postseason. The Indians are a lot less scary with a lefty on the mound, and you’re going to want to take advantage of that at some point.

My weekly ESPNews appearance was bumped back to today at 4:40 ET, for the three of you not related to me who make it a point to catch it.