Fog rolled into Angels Stadium for a series between the LA Angels and the Toronto Blue Jays this week. Two of the games we saw a dark figure emerge late, swaying back and forth on the mound ready to defeat his next opponent.
It seemed eerily familiar. Despite the fact that it was an LA Angels baseball game, for some reason I kept picturing Toronto as a scared foreign Yokozuna trying to evade a casket that was an inevitable resting place. My mind had been warped by Robles entrance… and years of watching WWE’s Undertaker close in on his own flapping blue adversaries. Warning, if you hate wrestling, you may not pick up on what this article is laying down.
April 30th, 2019. The sweat beaded off Robles’ brow as he took the sign then delivered the pitch; strike three on the outside of the plate, looking. A clenched fist pumping and his number 57 jersey flowing from his body language of pure elation. Hmm, another familiar sight; echoing to the same numbered flame-throwing closer of successful Halo years past. (If you didn’t know, Francisco Rodriguez AKA K-Rod)
Robles’ game ending strike was a nice pitch after inducing a Tellez double play to get the first two outs of the 9th in a 4-3 affair; Halo Nation was still brimming from a Brian Goodwin go-ahead homer just minutes before. The other superb big red late game machine for LAA, Ty Buttrey, would go on to close the next game 6-3 on the 1st of May in similar fashion.
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To polish up, Robles would again make his dreadful entrance on the 2nd and the Blue Jays would leave Anaheim win-less… falling 6-2 in the finale. Red fireworks blasted out of the rocky waterfall… in my head I imagined Brad Ausmus limping out toward him with an Urn. A true Brothers of Destruction metaphor in full World Wrestling Entertainment inspired lure.
What was to be expected after Cody Allen was not able to get his arm or head to cooperate with his Cleveland closing mentality of old? It’s like watching Scott Steiner try to pump back up. Push ups are impressive but pity is not. Robles took a large part of the vacated role by locating what Allen could not- a badass persona.
Then he used it on Toronto- Rest In Peace. So said that familiar gong we have come accustomed to hearing right before the Halo lights up outside Angels Stadium. Just like on April 30th.
But who is Hansel Robles? A former New York Met. Signed in 2008 as an International Free Agent. Major Leaguer since 2015… the year after the Undertaker’s streak… ended? Wait a second. Could there have been a transfer of undead power? A 50-year old giving the reigns not to Brock or Roman… but to another 28-year old Phenom? Is it really that far-fetched? Ya know, in a fake sport story line kind of way? Yes, this is that kind of article.
Fittingly dubbed “El Penaco”(the grief) coming out of his native Dominican Republic, Robles has not shrunk in the face of big game asks. In fact, he pitched an inning with 2 strikeouts in a Mets win over the Dodgers in 2015 National League Divisional playoffs. Then two more innings in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. He had a grand total of 0 walks with the Royals tallying exactly 0 hits against him. Robles showed the clutch gene early on in his first real MLB test against high level competition.
It seems almost a natural progression to transition to a Closer, even if only initially part-time. As we have seen in Angels history, no matter the pitching arsenal, you either step up or shrink in the moment. Finding the right guy, isn’t as easy as looking at the statistics of their performance on paper. It involves being able to lay down those against you, crossing their arms over their chest, and flinging your hair back settling into a final resting place.
To answer those questions about who he is, we have to look at all the information. Perhaps more questions will help? Um, do the Angels have a new closer? One that delivers Last Ride’s and Tombstone Piledriver’s after going Old School on unsuspecting batters? Hmm, it seems like it. And maybe, just maybe, one who delivers big boots to the face, mighty Choke Slams, and creepily sits up to show his bursting immortality?
He even got a wrestling-like take down of a Royals baserunner trying to score on a Robles wild pitch. Take a look at the Fabian Ardaya tweet and video.
Oh yyeeeeeees! Roblllesss. Hansel Robles. Okay, so a 3.00 ERA with a 1-0 record and just 2 saves for the season is nothing to write home about… but lately, he has been pretty good. Since April Fools Day, Robles has been anything but a fool, giving up only 5 runs in 13 innings with 16 strikeouts. That will instill fear in enemies on Raw, Smackdown, or in the American League in general.
In 2018, Robles was a pleasant surprise in a mostly out of place bullpen when he posted a similar 2.97 ERA in Anaheim. Injuries had literally made Angels pitching an illusion… as if instead of off a raised MLB mound, that perhaps they were throwing upward from a hole six feet underground. Robles was one of few bright spots who excelled in any rotating role they gave him. By the way, his ERA last year was a career-best.
With the Mets Robles never quite found his place in the East coast spotlight. Hansel seemed more like Gretel in 2017 as a Met giving up runs to the less intimidating tune of 5.03. Glimpses of his command now had also surfaced in 2016, at 3.48… and in 2015, at 3.67. All of these contribute to an overall career record of 20-15 with a collective 3.85 earned run average.
Closer is still a relatively new role for Robles summing up 5 saves in his entire tenure in the Majors. But here he is, like the Deadman from Death Valley, diggin’ holes for 1-9 opposing lineup souls in an attempt to resurrect his own cemented role.
With Allen not living up to late game hype or being just hurt, Hansel has an opportunity to carve out a place that Angels fans may not feel good about him relinquishing once the others return or turn around. It takes more than the experience found in Allen to be a solid closer in the AL West. It takes health, command, and… a killer theme. And, even a pall bearer.
Que his eyes rolling into the back of his head. Do they serve tequila in the DR to the undead?