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ANGELS: ONE GAME FOR THE TITLE : Edmonds Picks Fine Time to Make a Comeback : Angels: Outfielder was riding high until he and the team slumped. He returns to form when the team needs him.

October 02, 1995|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Rex Hudler darted off third base, pondering a steal of home in the eighth inning Sunday at Anaheim Stadium. Suddenly, another thought sent him hurrying back to third.

"I said, 'Hud, what are you doing? This guy's got three knocks today, let him drive you in,' " Hudler would say later. "Today was his day. Today was Jimmy's day."

Jim Edmonds, an MVP candidate in July and August but an easy out in September, began October as if it were mid-summer again. He singled and scored in the first inning, doubled and scored in the third, singled and scored in the fifth and tripled, knocking in Hudler and Gary DiSarcina, in the eighth.

His fourth four-hit game this season couldn't have come at a better time. Needing a victory over Oakland to set up a one-game playoff against Seattle to determine the American League West championship, Edmonds delivered.

"If this was going to be our last game of the season, I didn't want to go out without a fight," Edmonds said after the Angels' 8-2 victory over the Athletics.

Edmonds seemed like an unlikely brawler.

After all, he and the Angels went splat at the same time last month. The widely held theory was that the Angels swooned largely because Edmonds stopped driving in runs.

Consider this:

Before the pivotal Oakland series, Edmonds had only five runs batted in in September. He seemed destined to carry the tag of 1995 Flash in the Pan rather than AL MVP.

He hit in a major league-best 23 consecutive games in June, appeared destined to hit 40 home runs and his average soared over .300 for July and August.

Then came the great slump.

His production slowed to a crawl and his average dipped into the .280s, well below his season-high of .315 on Aug. 20. He belted his 29th homer that day, but managed only three more until hitting his 33rd in Saturday's 9-3 victory.

Once the league leader in RBIs, Edmonds fell to eighth efore Sunday.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the slag heap. Edmonds rebounded this weekend. His recovery began Friday, gained momentum Saturday and went to warp speed on Sunday.

Next stop, the Kingdome.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," said Edmonds, who tied Don Baylor for the club record by scoring his 120th run this year. "I want to win the division championship."

Today's winner is the AL West winner, meeting the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs starting Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

The Angels will have to go through Seattle left-hander Randy Johnson, 17-2 with a 2.54 earned-run average.

"He [Edmonds] was driving the bus," Salmon said. "That was just what we needed. It's definitely why we've won the last few days. It was good to see him going again."

It seemed like ages since Edmonds hit the way he did Sunday, his 44th multiple-hit game this season. The ball seemed to jump off Edmonds' bat, as it had earlier this season. He showed a patient, easy swing and connected again and again.

His nose dive happened because he fell into a rut, he said.

"I was trying to hit every pitch they were throwing," Edmonds said. "I think we all finally settled down when we started bunting guys over and hitting and running.

"We knew why we were struggling. Now, it's a matter of putting it back together."

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