Author Archive

Griffey: Top 5 in oohs and ahs

Before tonight’s game at Safeco Field, Torii Hunter and I were talking about Ken Griffey Jr., his greatness and unique style.

“When I was a young guy, I used to watch everything he did,” Hunter said. “I loved his swing so much I even tried to copy it — left-handed. He’s got to be one of the greatest players ever, and one of the most exciting.”

I started watching the game before Torii was born. I told him I had Junior in my all-time top five for pure entertainment value.

Here they go:

1. Willie Mays

2. Roberto Clemente

3. Mickey Mantle

4. Nolan Ryan

5. Ken Griffey Jr.

Four outfielders and the fastest gun in history.

It’s hard to leave out Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Fernando Valenzuela, Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis . . . and on and on. But those are my fab five.

Junior had it all, and he loved every minute he was on the field. A player for the ages, and the  best of his time. Barry Bonds might have been a better hitter, but he wasn’t the total player Griffey was in their primes. — Lyle Spencer 

Morales: Sad, but no tragedy

Before putting the Kendry Morales ordeal to bed, a few words of quiet reflection might be in order.

As Jered Weaver so aptly put it, this was a “freak accident.” It could have happened to anybody, but it happened to Morales, at the strangest of times. A moment of spontaenous celebration by the Angels turned into something unfathomable.

Moments after delivering one of the great efforts of his career, Morales was being carried off the field, wondering how severely his left leg was injured.

It turns out it was a fracture of the lower leg, and he’ll be undergoing surgery on Sunday. Morales will be out for a long time. The Angels and their fans will miss him a great deal. But he will be back.

This is something we need to keep in mind. Morales will be back. Angels fans understand the distinction after what we all went through last season.

It’s possible Morales, given the advanced nature of modern medicine and training methods, will be as good as ever when he returns to the Angels’ lineup. He is young and strong and resilient. We know how tough he is. The fact he is here is testimony enough. You don’t make the boat trip over from Cuba without being tough, physically and mentally.

In any case, he will be back. The Angels might not win a fourth straight AL West title, and that will make a lot of people angry. But they’ll rebound, rebuild, add pieces and touches if that’s the case. They’ll be just fine. They’ll continue to sell tickets and play exciting baseball, and Morales will be part of it.

I wish I could tell you exactly what happened, what I saw, but I was staring into this laptop when Morales slipped and went down on home plate in that crowd of teammates. I was writing my fourth or fifth sublede for my game story, hitting the send button right about the time he lost his balance and fell, damaging that left leg.

I’ve been told by those closer that it was a “crazy scene,” something nobody could have imagined. This just doesn’t happen, but it happened, and it’s a shame.

But this is not a tragedy.

This is misfortune.

What happened last season was a tragedy.

We need to keep this in mind as we move forward.

The Angels will have a new hitter behind Torii Hunter, when his injured hand allows him to return to the lineup. They’ll have a new first baseman – maybe three or four, who knows? The game will go on, and so will the Angels.

I feel for Kendry. I happen to have a great deal of respect for him, as an athlete and a person. He has done amazing things in his young life, and he will do many more amazing things.

This will pass. – Lyle Spencer
   

Izturis activated, Wood to DL

The Angels have activated infielder Maicer Izturis from the 15-day disabled list (right shoulder inflammation) and placed third baseman Brandon Wood on the 15-day DL retroactive to May 24 with a hip flexor strain.

The team also optioned reliever Bobby Cassevah to Triple-A Salt Lake and recalled from the same team right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez.

Izturis is batting .256 in 14 games and leads the team with a .500 average (6-for-12) with runners in scoring position. He is in Tuesday night’s lineup against the Blue Jays, batting eighth, with Reggie Willits in center field batting ninth, giving Torii Hunter a day off.

Wood is batting .156 in 122 at-bats with two homers and seven RBIs. – Lyle Spencer

 

 

Kendrick No. 2 in new lineup

Angels manager Mike Scioscia is going with a new look starting tonight against the A’s and Mr. Perfect, Dallas Braden.

 

Here’s the lineup Scioscia plans to go with for now, with Maicer Izturis due to come off the disabled list (right shoulder tightness) next week and assume a larger role in the 1 or 2 spots:

 

1. Erick Aybar, SS

2. Howard Kendrick, 2B

3. Bobby Abreu, RF

4. Torii Hunter, CF

5. Kendry Morales, 1B

6. Hideki Matsui, DH

7. Juan Rivera, LF

8. Mike Napoli, C

9. Brandon Wood, 3B

The Angels were 60-35 last season with Abreu batting third and 27-19 when Hunter hit cleanup. These were their best records with those hitters in those roles. Only Vladimir Guerrero (43-39) batted fourth more often than Hunter. — Lyle Spencer

 

 

Pulling hard for `Doc’ Roberts

This has been a distressing week, and I’m not talking about the Angels’ struggles to score runs and stop clubs from abusing their pitching staff.

Two giants of the game, Ernie Harwell and Robin Roberts, have passed away in the past two days. They lived a combined 175 years and made wonderful use of their time on the planet, enriching countless lives in countless ways. They were among the very best the sport had to offer.

Stunning news arrived earlier in the week in the form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma having invaded the body of Dave Roberts, who also has enriched the game in ways both small and large. Roberts, smart, intuitive, irrepressibly upbeat, is meeting this challenge head-on, committed to overcoming this obstacle and living a long, rich life, just as Harwell and Roberts did.

If there is any justice, Roberts will be alive into his 80s, making people laugh and feel good about themselves, like those two gentlemen.

I came to know “Doc,” as we called him, during the two seasons he played for the Padres and I covered them on a daily basis for MLB.com. He was what we call in the business a “go-to guy,” much like Torii Hunter is with the Angels. In hard times, when players are disinclined to talk about their team’s troubles and their own, there hopefully are those who can be counted on to offer insights no matter how dire the straits.

Dave Roberts, with the Padres and the other teams he graced, was one of those athletes, just as Hunter is a magnet for Angels beat writers.

In 2005, Roberts was coming off his triumph in Boston, when he stole a base against the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series that triggered one of the greatest comebacks – and stories – in the game’s history. Roberts is a part of New England lore for his lore in exorcising those Bambino curses and ghost.

Coming home to San Diego, Roberts led off and played center field in 2005 for a club that made the postseason, getting swept by the Cardinals. He played the game with passion and intelligence. One thing nagged at him: his reputation for being fragile. We collaborated on several articles that knocked down this widely-held perception.

Athletes given to hurling themselves into the game, as Roberts did and Hunter does, put themselves in harm’s way. It has nothing to do with being injury-prone. It’s simply the by-product of playing full-tilt, with abandon.

In ’06, Roberts moved over to left to accommodate the arrival of Mike Cameron, a man Hunter considers one of the three premier defensive center fielders of the generation. In right was Brian Giles, completing a wonderfully productive outfield.

There was one horrific moment involving Roberts that season that seemed to characterize his career. Pursuing a fly ball at Angel Stadium, he rammed his right knee into the base of the fence in left field chasing what turned out to be an inside-the-park homer by Dallas McPherson.

“The only way for him to stop his momentum is to slide — and he smoked his knee good,” Giles said. “That’s the way Doc approaches it. Hopefully, it’s a bruised kneecap and he’ll be out a few days.”

Roberts — a star quarterback in high school who could have been a defensive back at UCLA but focused instead on baseball – soon was back in his leadoff role, creating havoc. He stole a career-high 49 bases in 55 attempts in ’06 and would have exceeded 50 if not for that incident in Anaheim. In 129 games, he scored 80 runs, another career best.

The Padres were a joy to cover. With Mike Piazza behind the plate, Adrian Gonzalez emerging at first base, Khalil Greene and Josh Barfield looking like future stars in the middle of the infield, and Jake Peavy, Chris Young and the great Trevor Hoffman anchoring the pitching staff, this was a good team, seemingly on the verge of even better things.
 
They won the NL West again, and the Cardinals took them out in four games in the NLDS on their way to a World Series triumph.

Doc moved on to San Francisco in 2007 and ended his career as a Giant – fittingly – in ’08. He did some broadcasting work for the Red Sox last year and was in Spring Training, getting in a uniform and teaching young Padres some tricks in his new role as a club executive, when Hodgkin’s surfaced. Treatments began, and he is telling people he’s optimistic he’ll beat it.

Not surprisingly, he kept working with those young Padres. Their totally unexpected start, bolting out of the gate this season under manager Bud Black, might not be a coincidence.

Good teams and things seem to follow Doc Roberts around. It could be all those good vibes he passes around, without even trying. They don’t make them any better than this guy. – Lyle Spencer

 
 

      

Peer support for Wood

ANAHEIM – Kevin Kouzmanoff has been there, done that. The terrible start. The mental strain and drain. He knows what Brandon Wood has been going through in his search for quality at-bats and line drives that find open spaces, not gloves.
 
For Kouzmanoff, now the third baseman for the Athletics, it happened in 2007, after he was acquired by the Padres from the Indians in exchange for Josh Barfield. His start with San Diego was every bit as discouraging as what Wood is enduring, lugging a .102 batting average into Sunday’s series finale against the Yankees with five hits in 49 at-bats.

Kouzmanoff was batting .108 in 93 at-bats on May 7. The Padres were close to demoting him, but when third baseman Russell Branyan left the team after a relative died, Kouzmanoff was kept in the lineup by manager Bud Black, former pitching coach for Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

From May 8 to season’s end, he batted .309 with 17 home runs in 118 games.

“It was very frustrating,” Kouzmanoff said. “I was afraid to go out in public. It was embarrassing. I was lucky to have teammates who were pulling for me and to have a manager who believed in me. But I knew I could play the game. It was just a matter of bringing it out.

“I’ve watched [Wood] and he’s a good player. He’s here for a reason. He just needs to stick with it.”

Wood delivered in a big situation on Sunday against the Yankees. With his team down by a run and the bases loaded with one out in the fourth, Wood sent Javier Vazquez’s first pitch, a curveball, on a line to left. It fell in front of a tumbling Marcus Thames for a two-run double. Wood had been hitting in bad luck, having been robbed on a number of occasions of hits and RBIs on diving plays.

The kid was due for a break, and he finally got one to fall. — Lyle Spencer 

 

The good, the bad . . .

In the afterglow of a 3-1 triumph and three-game weekend sweep of the Blue Jays . . .

 

THE GOOD

With two outs in the sixth, Erick Aybar still on second after a leadoff double, Hideki Matsui unloads on a Ricky Romero fastball and sends it rocketing one-hop off the center-field wall to snap a scoreless deadlock for Ervin Santana. Before the game, manager Mike Scioscia talked in some detail about how Japanese hitters spend hour after hour trying to gain a perfect balance at home plate. At times it appears Matsui is leaning back as he takes his swing, falling away, but he manages to keep his bat in the hitting zone and drive the ball. He did it again in the ninth, igniting what proved to be an important two-run rally. This is an amazing hitter, a man who thrives under pressure.

 

THE BAD

These sparse, disinterested Blue Jays crowds. I know it’s Stanley Cup time, and it’s cold, and the Jays haven’t been good for a long while, and they traded Roy Halladay. But this is not good. I’ve always defended Canadian baseball fans, and I truly miss Montreal, one of the world’s great cities. But the Jays aren’t that bad. These “Lyle” chants, zeroing in on the slumping first baseman, are not worthy of such an urbane city. The Jays drew for these three Angels dates what they once attracted for an average regular-season game. Sad.

 

THE BEAUTIFUL

Ervin Santana, when he’s on his game, is a tremendous pitcher. He was dealing with supreme confidence from the outset Sunday. Trouble surfaced twice in the early going, and both times he reached back and made quality pitches, leaving runners in scoring position. His fastball was sitting in the 91-93 mph range – not quite where it will be when he gets in a warm-weather groove – and his slider and changeup were dancing. He thought his change was his best pitch, and he should know. If he maintains his rhythm, flow and confidence, the Angels could have a rotation full of All-Star candidates after a rough first two spins through the cycle. - Lyle Spencer

 

The good, the bad . . .

TORONTO – While watching Joe Saunders duel fellow lefty Brian Tallent on a very cold Saturday in Canada . .

.

THE GOOD

Howard Kendrick, in the No. 2 hole for the first time this season, powers the eighth pitch of the day by lefty Brian Tallet into the seats in left center for a 2-0 lead following Erick Aybar’s five-pitch walk. Kendrick used to hit behind Aybar in the Minors and will be a dream No. 2 hitter with experience. He drives the ball almost as hard to the opposite-field as one of his role models, Derek Jeter, who always offers encouragement when they share the same field — as they did for three days at Yankee Stadium.

THE BAD

Brandon Wood, a terrific young athlete trying maybe a little too desperately to find his way, finally takes his offensive struggles to the field with errors on consecutive plays. He misplays a hop on the carpet, creating one unearned run, then bounces a throw past first baseman Kendry Moralels for another unearned run. These are mistakes Wood does not make when he’s feeling in tune with the planet, but that isn’t the case at the moment.

THE UGLY


There’s something terribly unsettling about Rogers Centre these days. It’s like watching a horror film alone in an empty theatre on a dark afternoon – and hearing lonely voices screaming and hollering “Lyle!” in the distant reaches. They’re all over that other Lyle, Overbay, for his terrible start, and it can’t be doing the Blue Jays first baseman any good. I know it isn’t doing much for me.

 

THE BEAUTIFUL

“O Canada,” the civilized world’s most beautiful anthem, sung by anyone with a decent voice. I used to get chills coming to the old Montreal Forum and hearing the legendary Roger Doucet do his tenor version before Canadiens games. There was something majestic about that voice and that song, unlike anything I’ve heard since. — Lyle Spencer  

The good, the bad . . .

In the afterglow of the Angels’ 7-5 decision over the Blue Jays in the wonderfully flavorful international city of Toronto . . .

THE GOOD

The offense comes alive with lightning (steals by Jeff Mathis, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter), thunder (towering homer to right-center by Kendry Morales) and artistic merit (opposite-field, two-out RBI strokes by Abreu and Hunter back-to-back; two-out run-producing hits by Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis that proved decisive). These are the Angels you came to know and love last summer. Let’s see if it lasts a while.

THE BAD

Two pitches in bad places, a fastball by Jered Weaver up in Vernon Wells’ wheelhouse leading off the second inning, and a curve by reliever Jason Bulger that Adam Lind lost in the right-field bleachers in the eighth.

THE UGLY

Artificial turf. Yes, it’s functional, in a twisted sort of way, and it’s nice that they can shut the roof and play when it’s stormy and freezing outside. But I’m sorry, I never could stand the stuff, from the moment I first saw it at the Astrodome so many years ago, and I still can’t take the fake grass after all these years. It’s sinful what it did to Andre Dawson and Eric Davis, to name two of many.

THE BEAUTIFUL

Everything Weaver did through besides unleashing two fastballs in the wrong places to Wells and Randy Ruiz in the eighth. The big kid who used to follow John Lackey around is becoming The Man before our very eyes, with the look, stuff and attitude of an ace. It’s a beautiful thing indeed if you’re an Angels fan.

A strong contender was Mathis’ athletic play in pouncing on a ball that skipped away from the batter’s box and erasing Lind trying to move up to third in the seventh inning. Very few catchers make that play. Mathis is an elite class defensively, and his eight-game hitting streak is starting to suggest that his postseason offensive eruption was no fluke. — Lyle Spencer

 

Fuentes to DL; Willits, Rodriguez recalled

The Angels have placed closer Brian Fuentes on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 6, making him eligible to return on April 21.

Fuentes said he tweaked a muscle mid-back on the left side on April 6 after making a save in the season opener the day before. He has not pitched since but feels he is mending and threw again, playing catch, for the first time on Tuesday and again before Wednesday’s game against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Fernando Rodney, Scot Shields and Kevin Jepsen are expected to share ninth-inning duties until Fuentes returns. Rodney was 37 for 38 in save opportunities for Detroit last season and likely will get first call, manager Mike Scioscia said.

“I was lifting weights — I just picked up a dumbbell, and it was a freak thing,” Fuentes said. “I didn’t have a lot of weights. I saw a chiropractor, and he said he didn’t believe anything was structurally wrong. It’s a tissue issue. With the rehab we’ve done, it seems to be getting better.”

The Angels recalled outfielder Reggie Willits from Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where he was rehabbing a strained hamstring, and reliever Francisco Rodriguez from Triple-A Salt Lake while reliever Bobby Cassevah was returned to Salt Lake.

Another move will be required on Thursday when Scott Kazmir is activated to start the series finale against the Yankees. Kazmir pitched a rehab game at Rancho Cucamonga on Friday after experiencing left shoulder tightness on March 25 and missing a turn in the rotation.– Lyle Spencer

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