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BASEBALL / DAILY REPORT : ANGELS : Hudler Told He's in League of His Own--by Ripken

June 12, 1995|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

Rex Hudler, a 6-foot, 195-pound utility infielder with 30 career home runs, did Sunday what Oakland's Mark McGwire, Detroit's Cecil Fielder and Boston's Jose Canseco have never done--homer into the second deck of Baltimore's Camden Yards.

Hudler turned on Jamie Moyer's inside fastball in the first inning, sending it an estimated 450 feet into the bleachers, but the enormity of the moment didn't sink in until the sixth inning, when Baltimore's Cal Ripken doubled and had a quick conversation with Hudler at second base.

"He said I was in a league by myself, and coming from him, that really hit home," said Hudler, a former first-round pick of the Yankees who was actually selected 30 spots ahead of Ripken in the 1978 draft. "I couldn't believe it. I was so flattered."

Hudler had to fight off tears during a postgame interview, so moved was he by Ripken's comment and the Angels' gut-wrenching, 5-4 victory, in which he also had a two-run double in the third inning.

"I'm an emotional player anyway, but that was the most fun I've ever had playing a game," Hudler said. "What a pleasure it was. I almost feel guilty being able to play this game. I should be locked up."

*

The move didn't seem to make sense. Walk Rafael Palmeiro and put the winning run on base to pitch to Ripken, a future Hall of Fame shortstop, in the bottom of the ninth inning?

Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann said it wasn't as difficult a decision as one might believe. Not when you have Lee Smith, the game's all-time saves leader, pitching.

"Palmeiro has been so tough on us and against right-handed pitching, and he's really tough in this ballpark," Lachemann said. "You had a Hall of Famer on deck, but we had one on the mound too. If he doesn't make it to Cooperstown, no reliever should."

Smith got Ripken to line out to center to end the game for his major league-leading 16th save.

"That was one of the great confrontations," Lachemann said. "It was a gamble. Fortunately, it worked."

Did Smith have any doubts?

"Hell yeah, I took my chances just like everyone else," he said. "But even if I didn't intentionally walk Palmeiro, I was going to walk him. Still, it's not often you put the go-ahead run on base."

*

The hot and humid Baltimore weather turned the Angel dugout into a sweatbox, but reliever Troy Percival wasn't about to retreat into the air-conditioned comfort of the clubhouse during the ninth inning.

"You won't find me in this locker room when Lee Smith is pitching," said Percival, who retired four of five batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings. "I love watching him pitch. You know you're going to get your money's worth watching him, and that last at-bat against Cal Ripken was awesome, a battle all the way."

The combination of the weather, another three-hour-plus game and the culmination of a long road trip drained most of the Angels.

"I'm exhausted," said outfielder Tim Salmon, who hit a two-run homer in the third inning. "I tell you what, I might sleep the whole way home."

*

Mark Langston, Chili Davis, Gary DiSarcina and Hudler all have small roles in Bruce Hornsby's next music video, which is expected to be released next month.

Hornsby, who lives in Williamsburg, Va., and is a longtime friend of Langston's, was a frequent visitor to the Angels' clubhouse at Camden Yards during the weekend series.

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