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Easley is Handy at Third : Baseball: Angel infielder returns and his weary shins hold up in 11-inning victory.

July 05, 1993|SCOTT MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — After Damion Easley eased back into the lineup Sunday for the Angels' 7-6, 11-inning victory over Cleveland, his uniform was dirty, his glove was warm and his ears were ringing.

But his shins were fine.

"I'm as surprised as you guys," he told reporters. "Eleven innings, going as hard as I could."

Easley and his shin splints returned from a sabbatical on the 15-day disabled list, and what a time for a comeback.

The Angels had lost six in a row and were quickly turning more knotty than Easley's legs. To make matters worse, the Angels had blown a 6-3 lead in the ninth Sunday and were threatening to help Cleveland get its first three-game sweep here since 1975.

And here was Easley, at third base for the first time since last summer. He was there because Angel Manager Buck Rodgers, trying to get Easley through the rest of the season, figures the footwork at third is less demanding than at second.

"Fine by me," said Easley, who acknowledged the key will be how his shins are this morning. "I felt really comfortable."

Comfortable? Is that word strong enough? Easley went three for four, collecting a double and two singles, to raise his average to .318. And, making Rodgers look like a genius, Easley handled six chances cleanly in the field.

"Third base is all instinct and reaction," Easley said. "There's not much to it. You've just got to jump, dive, fall, crawl . . . whatever it takes to get to the ball, you've got to do it."

At no time was that more evident than in the 11th when, with two out and Indians on first and second, Thomas Howard put some top spin on a grounder between shortstop and third. Easley, reacting cat-quick, got the ball in his glove on a dead sprint and threw on the run to nip Howard at first and allow the Angels the chance to win it in the bottom of the inning.

Turns out, Easley not only had to make a tough fielding play, he had to do it with Felix Fermin, the runner at second, screaming in his ear.

"That was probably the toughest play of the night," Easley said. "The ball kind of bounced up high into the lights and I had the runner yelling at me, 'Hey, miss it! Miss it!' I had to concentrate. The toughest part was catching it, not throwing it."

Easley made another key fielding play with Howard at bat in the third--by ignoring the baseball.

With two out, Kenny Lofton on second and the Angels ahead, 4-0, Howard edged a soft roller down the third-base line. Easley and starter Mark Langston converged on the ball and, with Lofton already at third since he was running on the pitch, Easley backed away from the ball at the last second and, a few feet further, it rolled foul.

"I was going all-out for it," Easley said. "I couldn't tell, by its rotation, where it was going. I was getting ready to pick it up and Langston said, 'Let it go."'

It was the only thing Easley let go all night.

"Damion looked like he was ready to go," Rodgers said. "He didn't miss a lick. He was right on it in his first at bat and he made some good plays at third, too. We welcome him back both ways."

Sure, Easley has been taking batting practice for the past two weeks but, for a guy who only started taking ground balls at third on Saturday, Easley handled it easily.

"I don't know where I got all that juice and confidence today," he said. "I didn't feel like I was off 15 days."

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