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Angels Add Fuel to Fire in Phillips

Baseball: He comes back in trade with White Sox and immediately pays dividends in 5-4 victory over Brewers.

May 19, 1997|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

During the off-season, the Angels acquired one of the most intense managers in the game, a third baseman who never smiles past nine in the morning on game day and a down-and-dirty, true-grit catcher.

Sunday, they stoked the fire with a trade that brought leadoff hitter and renowned sparkplug Tony Phillips back to Anaheim.

Phillips, who moved into the No. 1 spot in the Angel lineup as the designated hitter, immediately made his presence felt, scoring from first base with a wild fade-away slide into home after Darin Erstad's third-inning double. The Angels went on to win their seventh game in a row, 5-4, over Milwaukee in front of 16,665 at Anaheim Stadium.

The Angels sent catcher Jorge Fabregas and left-handed reliever Chuck McElroy to Chicago for Phillips and catcher Chad Kreuter. The move means struggling Eddie Murray, who is batting .219 and has only two hits in his last 19 at-bats, will be relegated to pinch-hitting and a part-time designated-hitter role. It also will allow Erstad, who is still trying to master playing first base, to escape the added pressure of leading off.

"This solidifies our lineup in two ways," General Manager Bill Bavasi said. "It gives us the prototype leadoff hitter and also secures the designated hitter's spot.

"The first time we got Tony, we had a lot of young guys who needed help establishing their baseball identities, so we wanted him for his attitude and approach, as well as his playing ability. This time, all he has to do is play well."

During his first stint with the Angels, in 1995, Phillips, now 38, had lifetime bests in home runs (27) and runs (119).

"When [Chicago General Manager Ron] Schuler told me about the trade [Sunday] morning, there was a big smile on my face," Phillips said. "I had one my best years here and the team had a great year. And this team has the players to do it again.

"I'm not part of anyone's future anymore. I'm here because they want to get it done right now. I'm excited to play for [Manager Terry] Collins. He's an aggressive guy. All of us little guys have a chip on our shoulder."

Phillips, who was suspended for two games earlier this season after a profanity-laced tirade directed at umpire John Shulock on April 21, gave the Angels the go-ahead run and set up another with his third-inning sprint from first to home on Erstad's hit. Catcher Mike Matheny tried to make a sweeping tag of Phillips but lost the ball in the process, allowing Erstad to take third base. Erstad scored on Dave Hollins' groundout.

The play helped knuckleballer Dennis Springer improve his record to 2-1.

Springer got into trouble in the first inning when shortstop Gary DiSarcina lost leadoff hitter Gerald Williams' pop-up in the sun. Springer hit Jeff Cirillo, walked David Nilsson to load the bases and, one out later, walked Jeromy Burnitz to give the Brewers a 1-0 lead.

The Angels came right back when Hollins lined a shot off the foot of Milwaukee pitcher Jose Mercedes and Edmonds smacked the first of two almost identical home runs to right field.

The second was a solo shot in the sixth inning.

Mike Holtz replaced Springer with two out and a runner on second in the seventh, and he gave up a leadoff homer to John Jaha and a single to Burnitz before giving way to Rich DeLucia in the eighth. Mike James pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to pick up his sixth save.

The previous performances of Holtz, who had given up one run in 19 appearances before Sunday, made the trade possible. Asked if the club would have been willing to give up McElroy and go with an 11-man staff--with only one left-hander in the bullpen--if Holtz wasn't pitching so well, Bavasi said simply, "No."

McElroy had been acquired from Cincinnati last season for right-hander Lee Smith.

The trade also marked the end of a rocky Angel career for Fabregas, who had been chastised by teammates at times for his handling of pitchers and for not being tough enough in blocking the plate. He also had clashed with Angel coaches over pitch selection and on the last trip got into a shower-room shouting match with batting instructor Rod Carew.

Kreuter, a 32-year-old veteran of 10 major league seasons, also started Sunday, giving .330-hitting Jim Leyritz a rare day off. Kreuter was hitless in three at-bats, but made a key defensive play in the eighth inning. With one out and the tying run on first, he blocked a DeLucia pitch in the dirt and then threw out Burnitz when he tried to advance to second.

The trade means the Walt Disney Co. will have to shell out another $750,000 or so this season. Phillips is earning $1.8 million this year, Kreuter $425,000. McElroy's 1997 salary is $817,000 and Fabregas' is $270,000. The Angels pick up Phillips' and Kreuter's salaries, pro-rated from Sunday.

To Collins, it's a bargain.

"If you wrote out exactly what you want in a leadoff hitter, you'd come up with Tony Phillips," he said.

*

BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN

Fiery Tony Phillips will fit right in with his new old team. C7

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