|Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Jered Weaver throws to the plate during the second inning of their baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Wednesday, May 2, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. Weaver threw a no hitter against the twins Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)|
Weaver's hometown career culminates with no-hitter
ANAHEIM, Calif.—Dave Weaver was in his usual seat, 20 rows behind home plate, drinking a beer and shouting instructions to his son in the quiet lulls between pitches. His wife, Gail, was alongside him, calmly enjoying a little night baseball.
It really could have been any night in three lives filled with similar evenings at ballparks all across Southern California.
Instead, Jered Weaver made an ordinary Wednesday at Angel Stadium unforgettable for the close-knit family that put him on that mound.
The Los Angeles Angels ace threw his first no-hitter in dazzling style, allowing just two baserunners while beating the Minnesota Twins 9-0 with a merciless array of pitches first taught to him by his father. After Weaver celebrated with his teammates, his parents and wife joined him on the field, gathering for a tear-soaked group hug he'll remember as vibrantly as his near-perfection.
"It was an unbelievable experience to be able to have them come down on the field and share some tears," Weaver said. "It's special for my dad to be here. It's been a long road, and he's been here all the way."
Dave Weaver raised two major league pitchers on the other end of the Los Angeles metroplex, passing his love for baseball to Jeff and Jered through years of coaching and support. He attends nearly every home game Jered pitches, and only Jeff's World Series victory was more memorable than Jered's overpowering no-hitter.
"It's just a dream come true for him," Dave Weaver said. "He was so excited and jubilant. He's been close so many times, but to get this win at this point in their season is tremendous."
Indeed, a 7-15 start and newcomer Albert Pujols' homerless April had slowed the Angels' momentum in a season of high expectations. But on the same day the Dodgers introduced their new ownership group, Weaver shoved them off Los Angeles' front pages with his first no-hitter -- the Angels' 10th, and their second in less than a year -- to finish up a three-game sweep of Minnesota.
"Guys were picking me up left and right," Weaver said. "We scored some runs early and took a little pressure off me. I was able to throw some strikes, and (catcher Chris) Iannetta was throwing down the right fingers. Gotta love that."
Weaver is off to a 4-0 start this season, and his no-hitter lowered his ERA from 2.02 to 1.61. He struck out nine Twins, giving him a major league-leading 45 in just six starts.
He has a spot on the short list of the majors' best pitchers -- and his no-hitter only underlined it.
Weaver mowed down 20 of Minnesota's first 21 batters, but had no perfect-game pressure after Iannetta allowed a passed ball on a strikeout of Chris Parmelee in the second inning. Weaver walked Josh Willingham on a full-count pitch with two outs in the seventh, but he didn't make another mistake, aside from a narrowly foul liner by Trevor Plouffe in the eighth.
When Alexi Casilla's final fly settled in Torii Hunter's glove at the right-field warning track, Weaver raised his hands to his head in disbelief while Iannetta started the celebration of a pitcher who passed on free-agent riches last season for a long-term deal to stay with his only major league organization.
"To have it happen at home, where I decided to stay, and have these fans cheer me on, to go out there in the ninth was pretty electric," Weaver said.
Weaver is California to the core, and not just because he fits the stereotypes. With his scruffy facial hair and those unkempt blond locks rolling down his neck, the 6-foot-7 right-hander easily could be an overgrown skateboarder in bohemian Venice or the gnarliest surfer in Huntington Beach.
Instead, Weaver was born, bred and trained to be an ace, all within a short drive of Angel Stadium.
He grew up in Simi Valley, a prosperous suburb just northwest of the sprawling San Fernando Valley, and learned the game on its youth league fields. Jeff, six years older, had a 12-year major league career with six teams, winning 104 games and a 2006 World Series ring with St. Louis.
After high school, Jered joined Long Beach State's powerful program, proudly becoming a Dirtbag and winning the Roger Clemens Award as college baseball's top pitcher. The Angels drafted him 12th overall in 2004 and eventually signed him after a tense showdown between the club and his agent, Scott Boras, who watches his client from a field box right behind home plate in Anaheim.
Weaver's ascent has been remarkably smooth. He reached the majors in 2006, immediately establishing himself as a starter and winning at least 11 games in each of his first six seasons. He pitched well in the 2009 playoffs and then made the past two AL All-Star teams, leading the majors in strikeouts in 2010 despite comically bad run support before going 18-8 last season with 198 strikeouts and a 2.41 ERA to finish second in the AL Cy Young voting to Justin Verlander.
And for all his success, free agency held no interest for Weaver. He loves the Angels' family vibe, and he embraces the Orange County lifestyle with his wife, Kristin, another former Long Beach State athlete.
So last August, Weaver signed a five-year, $85 million deal to stay with the Angels through 2016. He probably passed on tens of millions in free agency -- hardly a likely move by a Boras client -- but Weaver was determined not to break the bank at the risk of leaving his Newport Beach home.
"I love this team and this area, everything about it," Weaver said. "I'm just glad I got to do this in front of them. That's how I would have wanted it if I could choose."
Weaver is particularly dominant at Angel Stadium, where Minnesota's Denard Span says his distinct cross-body throwing motion lifts his release point so high that the ball actually appears to be coming out of the fake rock pile just to the left of the batter's eye beyond the center field fence.
Weaver also has personal traditions on that mound. He used to write the initials of his maternal grandparents in the dirt, but after young Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in 2009, Weaver began carving a solemn "NA" into the mound.
He did it before every inning of his no-hitter, keeping his fallen friend close.
"It just keeps me in the right frame of mind," Weaver said. "It's a special thing for me, and this is a special place."